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Funeral Friday for former St. Louis poet laureate Shirley Bradley Price LeFlore

Funeral Friday for former St. Louis poet laureate Shirley Bradley Price LeFlore

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Shirley Bradley Price LeFlore, who was active in the arts for decades and served as St. Louis' second poet laureate, died Sunday. She was 79.

Her three daughters were with her on Mother's Day when she died of renal failure at her home in Frontenac, one daughter, Lyah LeFlore-Ituen, said Wednesday.

"She was happy to be home" from a hospital stay and was "at peace," LeFlore-Ituen said. "In true Shirley style, she waited to give Mother's Day a new meaning."

Mrs. LeFlore served from November until April as poet laureate. But she had spent more than 50 years performing, mentoring and teaching, her career touching hundreds of people.

Many considered Mrs. LeFlore a pioneer in spoken-word poetry in this area. 

"She developed talent," said Rudy Nickens, who has known Mrs. LeFlore for more than four decades. "She loved what she did and helping others find their voices."

When she became the city's laureate, poet Michael Castro said: “She is such an iconic and loved figure that it was sort of the obvious choice. It’s sort of the capstone of a long career.” Castro, who had been the city's first poet laureate, died in December. 

Born in 1940, Mrs. LeFlore graduated from Sumner High School. She attended Lincoln University, later graduating from Webster College (now University), and received a master’s degree in psychology from Washington University.

Among her contributions, Mrs. LeFlore founded Creative Arts and Expressions Lab in 1981 and was an original member of the Black Artists Group, which her second husband, jazz musician Floyd LeFlore, co-founded. He died in 2014.

"She helped to maintain the rich canon of black literature," Nickens said, "keeping it alive and adding to it." 

Decades ago, she incorporated music into her performances and worked with jazz and blues figures such as singer Fontella Bass and saxophonist Oliver Lake. 

She taught as an adjunct at several local universities and was the first African-American assistant dean of students at Webster College. There, she helped a 1979 graduate, "Black-ish" actress Jenifer Lewis, who once said of Mrs. LeFlore's support: "She saved my life."

The poet was proud of being black, female and from St. Louis, Nickens said. "It was core to who she was."

In the late 1960s, she took part in civil rights events, including the March on Washington and the Poor People’s Campaign, incorporating politics into her poetry.

Mrs. LeFlore published her work in two books, "Rivers of Women" and "Brassbones and Rainbows."  

A wake will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at McClendon Mortuary, 12140 New Halls Ferry Road. 

At a funeral service Friday, musicians are expected to play during the hourlong visitation that begins at 11 a.m. at Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust Street. 

The "homecoming" service, which begins at noon, will include poets reading from Mrs. LeFlore's work, dancers and music, LeFlore-Ituen said. 

Besides LeFlore-Ituen, of Frontenac, Mrs. LeFlore is survived by daughters Hope Price Lindsay and Jacie Price; niece Karen Bohr; and four grandchildren, Noelle Lindsay-Stewart, Jullian Price-Baez, Jordan Lindsay and Bella Ituen.

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