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Little Melba and Her Big Trombone Hardcover – August 4, 2014
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"Bewitched by the rhythms of jazz all around her in Depression-era Kansas City, little Melba Doretta Liston longs to make music in this fictional account of a little-known jazz great. Picking up the trombone at 7, the little girl teaches herself to play with the support of her Grandpa John and Momma Lucille, performing on the radio at 8 and touring as a pro at just 17. Both text and illustrations make it clear that it s not all easy for Melba; The Best Service for WHITES ONLY reads a sign in a hotel window as the narrative describes a bigotry-plagued tour in the South with Billie Holiday. But joy carries the day, and the story ends on a high note, with Melba dazzling audiences and making headlines around the world. Russell-Brown s debut text has an innate musicality, mixing judicious use of onomatopoeia with often sonorous prose. Morrison s sinuous, exaggerated lines are the perfect match for Melba s story; she puts her entire body into her playing, the exaggerated arch of her back and thrust of her shoulders mirroring the curves of her instrument. In one thrilling spread, the evening gown clad instrumentalist stands over the male musicians, her slide crossing the gutter while the back bow disappears off the page to the left. An impressive discography complements a two-page afterword and a thorough bibliography. Readers will agree that Melba Doretta Liston was something special. " --Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Music lovers will enjoy this picture-book biography of Melba Liston (1926-99), child prodigy and virtuoso trombonist who collaborated with most 20th century jazz greats. An excellent match of breezy text and dynamic illustrations tells an exhilarating story. Always in tune with music, seven-year-old Melba chose her first instrument from Joe's Music Truck. Self-taught and determined, she survived the gender-based taunts of high school boys while playing in Alma Hightower's after-school music club (using her horn to "turn all those hurt feelings into soulful music" and racial discrimination while touring with Billie Holiday's band. In the end, Liston "[made] her trombone sing" for audiences around the world and was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Russell-Brown's text engages the senses: "[Melba] especially loved Fats Waller, with his growly voice and booming piano", while Morrison's distinctive illustrations, stretched out like a slide trombone, draw the eye across each spread to the page turn. Back matter includes a detailed afterword with two photographs and a bibliography of books, articles, interviews, radio broadcasts, and websites, including a Jazz Cafe, where students can view Liston performing with Dizzy Gillespie's band. Pair this book with Jonah Winter's Dizzy (Scholastic, 2006) and Marilyn Nelson's Sweethearts of Rhythm (Dial, 2009) to explore more fully the jazz culture of the time. A celebration of the talent and success of a little-known African American female musician, this title will enrich library collection. --School Library Journal, starred review
About the Author
Katheryn Russell-Brown is a Professor of Law and the Director of the Center for Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida. She grew up in a family of music lovers, where jazz was an integral part of the sounds of daily life. A radio broadcast in 2008 about Liston inspired Russell-Brown to research the musician and eventually to write Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, her first picture book. Russell-Brown lives in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband and their two children. Visit her online at krbrown.net
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