Melodies, Movements and Remembering Florence Price: Spotlight on Chicago’s Leading Ladies of Classical Music

Chicago’s music scene is vibrant and diverse, with a rich history of producing influential artists across various genres. The city is well known for its history in classical music and is particularly progressive for female musicians. Chicago’s ‘Musicians Club of Women’ is a huge part of this.

The Musicians Club of Women is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to empowering and supporting emerging and established young women within classical music. The organisation is based in Chicago but does not limit the location of its members, with members reaching from the US, UK, India and all the way to Iceland and many more. They support their members through scholarships, and opportunities and create a safe space to express themselves and their talents freely.

The MCW was founded in 1875 after a group of five music-loving women created “The Amateur Musical Club”, which went on to have concerts presented by names like Alexander Scriabin, Maud Powell and Josè Iturbi. The spirit of empowering specifically women in music began in 1893. After almost 150 years the club (now known as the MCW) is one of the oldest musical organisations in Chicago.

Professional opera singer, producer and board member of the MCW, Emily Cox, expressed her love for the MCW community, underrepresented topics amongst women in music and the legacy that the club continues for historic female figures within classical music.

The Chicago-based 39-year-old joined the MCW in 2019 and shortly became a board member.

“I immediately liked that they had been around since 1873. Chicago is a really proud city, we are very proud of our history, and we are very proud of our unions. The women who are a part of the club are super welcoming, wonderfully warm and extremely authentic, and those are also two big things in Chicago, we don’t have time to mess around and we’re still very mid-western and very working-class. I am talking to all these women around me and one of them was the very first pristine day in the original tour of The Phantom of the Opera. It was incredible. Another woman I was speaking with was one of the first female composers in Canada.”

“I soon realised that the club was this deep well of collective knowledge and support and that these women are so generous and kind to one another. I wanted to be a part of this straight away.”

Emily later started a movement amongst members of the MCW for women with eating disorders. She created a range of charity music events in aid of this, alongside 2 other women. 

We approached the MCW team thinking that this project was not exactly something that you bring to a room full of women who are your grandmother’s age and expect them to be very gung-ho, and they were in fact immediately gung-ho and awarded us a grant to get started. That was over a year ago and the work premiered in April of this year, with new music events in aid of this cause all around Chicago.”

The club also tributes influential and historical female artists through their teachings, one, in particular, being Florence Price. Emily explained how they have had many students pay tribute to Price and feature her music. She mentioned one woman in particular who performed for the Musicians Club of Women. 

“We had a woman called Gertrude come in and play some of her own compositions on the piano, but she also played an entire piano sonata piece by Florence Price. I, alongside all of these women, sat in awe of this girl’s performance. It was so beautiful and she played on the piano with such grace and we need musicians like her to continue to remember these amazing women through their art. We were sitting at the table talking with her afterwards and she was telling us that she had just finished an entire concert tour series that she was doing where she was featuring Florence Price. Up until about three years ago Florence Price really wasn’t that well known or actively performed in Chicago and it has sort of been this revival, locally, of Chicago-based performers, musicians, composers and conductors who have decided that we are really going to start featuring, not only our home town hero’s, but all composers of colour, all female-identifying composers and individuals that we feel who were really repressed by the past, either politically, socially or religiously. “

“So if you look around Chicago right now, there are a plethora of concerts going on that featuring unknown musicians or musicians that really just didn’t get what they were due whenever they were alive and Florence Price is a huge component of that.”

The Musicians Club of Women and its members continue to fundraise in order to educate and offer opportunities for the next generation of underrepresented women who wish to fulfil their dreams in classical music.

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Written by: Jessica Hine