A look at music and feminism during the 1940s.
Research reveals that African American women made strides in entering the workforce during World War II, yet they suffered both racial and gender discrimination, funneling them into menial jobs. In this story set during the Great Migration, Sieg introduces female musicians of color who seem to be exceptions to this. The titular Mama Mable is a black bandleader who gathers “girls from near and far— / the bold, the bright, the brilliant” to make music. A little white girl narrates how they come to her community and spend a night playing music that would change the lives of all the women worrying about their menfolk and taking care of business in their absence. This rhyming picture book seems to be trying to show sisterhood through music and its power to cross barriers and heal a community. However, the juxtaposition of large, black Mama Mable and the little white girl combines with Mama Mable’s role as nurturer to summon uncomfortable echoes of the stereotypical mammy figure. Furthermore, the women Sieg bases her fictional characters on played music and faced discrimination, racism, and segregation while touring, all realities that are absent from this cheery text. One inspiration was Willie Mae Wong, who played in the all-women integrated band known as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. That was a real band that defied the segregation of their time; piecing together a fictional band inspired by different famous women from that era “to cheer up this good nation” does them and history a disservice.
A fascinating music history that is diminished in its execution. (author’s note) (Picture book. 3-6)