Sunday, February 18, 2018

Five Fabulous Picture Books about African American Musical Artists

Nina Nolan, author
John Holyfield, illustrator

Publisher Summary:  
People might say little Mahalia Jackson was born with nothing, but she had something all right.  A voice that was bigger than she was. 

Mahalia’s extraordinary journey eventually took her to the historical March on Washington, where she sang to thousands and inspired them to find their own voices. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
Mahalia stuck with what she loved—Gospel music—and kept true to her promises—to never sing in a nightclub—even though compromising one or both would have likely given her quicker and greater success.   Despite many set backs and obstacles, she kept on singing.  Her perseverance and integrity pay off with a record deal and amazing performance opportunities. 

Alan Schroeder, author
Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu, illustrators

Publisher Summary:
Straight up:  Florence was a remarkable child. Pint-sized dynamo “Baby Florence” Mills was singing and dancing just as soon as she could talk and walk.  Everywhere Flo went, she strutted through the streets of Washington D.C. with a high-steppin’ cakewalk.  Baby Flo went on to become an international superstar during the Harlem Renaissance—but first she had to overcome a case of stage fright and discover that winning wasn’t everything. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
The story centers on Florence Mills’ (Baby Flo) childhood singing and dancing for audiences—big and small.  She worked diligently to learn new songs and dance moves, allowing her to earn her first professional gig at the age of 7! The Author Notes illuminate more about her fascinating life.  This lively story of remarkable young girl will dance its way into your heart. 

Carole Boston Weatherford, author
Sean Qualls, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Young John Coltrane was all ears.  And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South during the 1930s: church songs, preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household.  John was surrounded by all kinds of vivid noises that shaped his own sound as a musician. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
Written in lyrical free verse, the different influences on a young John Coltrane are revealed.  Musical influences like his daddy on the ukulele are juxtaposed with other influences like grandpa’s Sunday sermons and birds warbling at sunrise.  This brief introduction to the music legend shows the importance of everyday experiences and observations on a person’s development.  The Author’s Notes discuss Coltrane’s commitment to his music and some of his career highlights.  Reading and music selection suggestions are also included.

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, author
Bryan Collier, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Hailing from the Treme’ neighborhood of New Orleans, where music always floated in the air, Troy “Trombone Shorty Andrews didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have a dream to play music.  This is the (autobiographical) story of how he made his dream take flight.

Why It Is Fabulous:
Trombone Shorty listened to all the sounds in his world and mixed them together to create his own “musical gumbo.” He began his musical journey when he found an old trombone that looked too broken down to make music.  Even though the instrument was initially too big for him, he practiced day and night to learn how to play.  His hard work eventually pays off.  Trombone Shorty reminds readers it is never too early to begin following your passion, and the only way to succeed is hard work.  

Michael Mahin, author
Evan Turk, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Muddy Waters was never good at doing what he was told.  His tenacious streak carried him from the hardscrabble fields of Mississippi to the smoky juke joints of Chicago and finally to a recording studio where Muddy’s signature sound was captured and a landmark record was made.  Soon the world fell in love with the indomitable spirit of Muddy Waters, whose electric sound laid the groundwork for what would become rock and roll. 

Why It Is Fabulous:
The smooth jazz-inspired text tells an engaging story.  Muddy’s determination to find his voice and his struggle to play his own way is inspiring.  He overcomes personal and professional obstacles, but he never gives up hope that he will succeed. 


  1. You really shared some great books for Black History. I have only read one. Mahalia Jackson looks like a book larger than life -- like Mahalia -- with gorgeous illustrations. Also look forward to reading Muddy Waters.

    1. Hope you are able to find some of these and enjoy them. :)


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