Calvert Johnson


  • Florence Price: Organ Compositions by the First Important African-American Female Classical Composer
    808 Howell St
    July 6 @ 8:00 am
    At the 1933 World’s Fair, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the First Symphony by African-American female composer, Florence Price, and the world became aware of the incredible talent and skill of this Chicago-based musician. Earlier, she had already distinguished herself by winning numerous composition competition prizes, including the 1932 Wanamaker Prizes for the same symphony and for her Piano Sonata in E Minor The first African-American woman composer to be recognized in classical music, Florence Price (1887-1953) composed a significant body of organ music between 1920-1953. Graduating at the top of her class at New England Conservatory (1906) as an organ major, she became a leading star of the Chicago Renaissance in the 1930-40s. She was also a member of the Chicago Club of Women Organists, and frequently was featured as a composer and organist on their annual concerts. While Price composed teaching pieces and works for church and theatre organists, she also composed major works reflecting her mature style. These include Passacaglia and Fugue, First Sonata, Variations on a Folksong [Peter, Go Ring Dem Bells], and Suite No. 1. Influenced by nationalist composers, Price successfully incorporated African-American materials into European formal structures. I will discuss her compositions as they demonstrate these traits: pentatonic melodies in the style of Spirituals, juba (syncopated) rhythms, and jazz-influenced harmonies. These works provide technical challenges which Price met as a highly proficient organist. Many of these traits also appear in her shorter works.


Calvert Johnson is Professor Emeritus of Music, Agnes Scott College (Atlanta), and retired Organist, First Presbyterian, Marietta, Georgia. Johnson earned the doctorate in organ performance at Northwestern University, studying with Karel Paukert, and the bachelor’s at Kalamazoo College, studying with Danford Byrens. Kalamazoo College awarded him the 2016 Distinguished Achievement Award. Through the Fulbright-Hays program he studied at Toulouse Conservatoire (Premier Prix) with Xavier Darasse. He studied in Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Japan and Korea. 

Johnson has performed in Japan, Mexico, Honduras, and throughout the USA and Europe, recently in Germany, Malta, Amman (Jordan), and Jerusalem. He has recorded for Albany, Calcante, Fleur de Son, and Raven labels. Known for his performances of early music and music by composers from under-represented groups, his lecture recitals on such composers were well received at national meetings of the American Guild of Organists, the Royal Canadian College of Organists, the College Music Society, Japanese Institute of Church Musicians, and National Association of Negro Musicians.

His recording Chicago Renaissance Woman: Florence B. Price Organ Works won a prize by the Society for American Music. Hildegard, ClarNan, Wayne Leupold Editions, and G. K. Hall publish his editions of music by women. Author of acclaimed volumes on Spain, Italy, England, and Netherlands (Historical Organ Techniques and Repertoire: An Historical Survey of Organ Performance Practices and Repertoire, Wayne Leupold Editions), Johnson has published articles on Spanish, Italian, and English keyboard music and performance practices in American, English, French, and Japanese professional journals.

Johnson was national Treasurer and Dean of the Atlanta and Tulsa chapters of the AGO, President (Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society), Chair (Committee on Cultural Inclusion of College Music Society), and Chair (annual MLK, Jr. Concert of the Anti-Racism Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta).