By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Originally decreed as Black Music Month by then-president Jimmy Carter in June 1979, the designation was changed in 2009 to African-American Music Appreciation Month. In his 2016 proclamation, former president Barack Obama stated that African-American music and musicians have helped our country “ . . . to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Hence, I bring to you in no particular order, a great selection of books from Williamson County Public Library Children’s Department celebrating “Lady Day’s” soaring vocals, the Motown Sound, Bob Marley’s plaintive ballads, Jimi Hendrix’s groundbreaking guitar playing, and much more.
First on the list for today’s magical musical journey is Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through The Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney (J 781.6440 PIN) “You ready, child? Let’s go.” Thus begins this beautifully written account of young performers who were catalysts for change in American music, and along with it, a cultural revolution. The 1960s were exciting and often turbulent times. For Berry Gordy, the man who has been largely credited with creating what would come to be known as “the Motown Sound,” it all started with an $800 loan and a vision of greatness. The year was 1959, and Gordy was on the brink of something amazing, something that would have far-reaching influence on music for decades to come. Drawing upon the talents of his family and local performers, Gordy created a record label for black musicians such as Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, and Diana Ross, just to name a few. The rest, as they say, is history.
Next up on the recommended reading list for African-American Music Appreciation Month is Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J 92 HENDRIX). A stylishly written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented James Marshall Hendrix, known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earth at the way-too-soon age of 27. His legacy lives on decades later, and his groundbreaking music continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.
Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216 GOL). At the time of her death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, Billie Holiday (nee Eleanora Fagan) was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time. Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the American civil rights movement.
No reading list about African-American music would be complete without mention of the excellent books about black musicians in the “Who Is/Who Was?” series, which features titles such as Who was Bob Marley? (J 92 MAR), Who Was Louis Armstrong? (J 92 ARM), Who Was Stevie Wonder? (J 92 WON), and Who Was Michael Jackson? (J 92 JAC). The books in this series feature whimsical illustrations and side notes about the subject, and are so much fun to read . Check ‘em out! (OK, that’s my one and only pun for this blog, I swear.)
Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (J 788.9316 AND) is a delightful, picturesque story of how a talented young boy from New Orleans didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have the dream to play music. Plucked from a crowd by none other than the legendary Bo Diddley and allowed to play his trombone on stage, he was then inspired to form his own band. Today, Andrews is a frequent performer at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the place where he got his first break.
Last but not least on my list of recommendations is Bob Marley: The Life Of A Musical Legend by Gary Jeffrey (J 92 MARLEY). Part biography, part graphic novel, this very cool book celebrates famed Jamaican musician Bob Marley. His body ravaged by cancer, Marley departed this earthly realm at the young age of 36, but his music and his message of peace continues to inspire people all over the world.