For Nonfiction Monday today (which is hosted by Camille from A Curious Thing), our contribution is in keeping with our Poetry-filled Yuletide-Cheer theme – it’s a picture book in verse that I have discovered a few months back: Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-girl Swing Band in the World.
I delayed writing the review since I wanted to share it after I have visited New Orleans so that I can interweave my travel photos with the lovely illustrations already found in the book.
Author Intentions and Notes. I usually reserve this section somewhere in the latter part of my review but this time around, I thought that I might as well begin with the words of three-time National Book Award Finalist and winner of Poets’ Prize, Marilyn Nelson about how she managed to turn this book over on its head and how she played with perspectives:
… instead of having the Sweethearts speak, or having the poet (me) tell about them, I followed my brother Mel’s suggestion that I write in the voices of the instruments. I imagined that all of the instruments the Sweethearts played – Tiny Davis’ trumpet, Ina Bell Byrd’s trombone, Roz Cron’s tenor saxophone, Johnnie May Rice’s guitar, Pauline Braddy’s drums – had somehow ended up in the same pawnshop in New Orleans.
Talk about creativity being taken to a different dimension altogether – clearly depicts the mind of someone who is limitless – without boundaries in its pursuit of aching truths and wailing voices. And this is perfectly matched by Jerry Pinkney’s vivid illustrations that evoke a powerful sense of rhythm and unparalleled beauty, wounded as it is.
Jerry Pinkney describes his process in his Artist’s Note:
The era was layered, the music was layered, the art needed to be layered. After two years of sketching, it all became clear. I needed to create my art as it had always been executed, then find a way to suggest the sound and magic of the music. I constructed a collage over my art with squares, different shapes of brilliant and textured colored papers, and torn pieces of the photocopied music sheets. later, I began adding pieces from maps of the U.S. to suggest travel, and flowers to speak to the beauty found in the Sweethearts of Rhythm.
This is a videoclip of Jerry Pinkney describing his artwork and process:
Grit and Gumption: “Soldiers of Music.” What I loved most about the book was how these female musicians were portrayed to show grit and gumption. At a time of social unrest, racial intolerance and hate crimes, and unspeakable discrimination against women – this all-girl first-ever-integrated band was literally rockin’ and rollin’ – galvanized into being ‘soldiers of music.’
I have to warn teachers and parents though to not let the colorful illustrations and the verses fool you – this is not a book for very young children. This is an extract from one of the poems found in the book entitled: “Black and Tan Fantasy: Johnnie May Rice on Guitar”
It was solace, then, that swing music gave those crowds?
You and your sweethearts were really “soldiers of music,”
living like tumbleweed, bathless and underpaid,
to uplift the nation’s fallen morale with acoustics?
Were you generating resilience as you played
that bouncy rhythm defined by its trill-filled time?
Was an antidote found, in jitterbugging like mad,
to the middle of the century defined by progress and crime?
Was it democratic music, making every toe tap
and every heart lift toward courage again, over fear?
Was it music more of transcendence than of escape:
each tune a tiny little victory over war?
As can be seen from the lines – there is a certain level of maturity required to have one understand the textured rhythm of Nelson’s voice – her choice of words reflect this sensitivity to the sociopolitical struggles and realities of that period. If you wish to know more about their research, their creative process, and the interweaving of the artist and the author’s collaborative energies – click here to be taken to a downloadable pdf link that details an in-depth interview done by children’s literature assembly.
Music as a form of Healing. I have always been thankful that I have an ear that is able to sensitively filter layers of music and a spirit expansive enough to embrace tunes and words both discordant and harmonious. In a recent conversation I had with one of our premiere Filipina musician, she shared that music has the power to heal, and I agree unreservedly.
Whether it was protest music that America needed to hear at the time or swing-big-band-jazz music that would drown anyone’s voices – is immaterial. This was also reflected in one of the poems entitled: “Take the ‘A’ Train: Ernestine ‘Tiny’ Davis on Trumpet”
Whose music is “truer”? Your bald-eyed protest songs,
Or the waves of joy in which people drowned their despair?
Forgetfulness, or a recitation of wrongs?
Shoot, taking the ‘A’ train was a form of prayer.
When music and poetry take the form of prayer – you know then that it has the power to heal and transform.
Visual Tour of New Orleans. Naturally, I use this as an excuse to post photos I have taken during my recent visit in the lovely city that is New Orleans. Oh yeah, I was deeply charmed. I hope you enjoy them along with the youtube videoclips I was able to find of the Sweethearts of Rhythm! Happy Nonfiction Monday!
I thought it would be good to make this a little sepia-toned. Taken while strolling the streets of New Orleans.
Reminded me of True Blood. Trust me when I say I was on the lookout for vamps and werewolves.
No other way to do it. It’s got to be a jazz funeral.
Enjoy these videoclips!
PictureBook Challenge Update: 125 (120)
PoC Challenge Update: 52 (25)
Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-girl Swing Band in the World. By Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Published by Dial Books: An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2009. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos were taken by me.