Women! Jazz! Integration!
In 1909, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones founded a school and orphanage for black children in Mississippi, and in 1939, he started an all-girl swing band: the Sweethearts of Rhythm. Swing “was filled with energy!” The girls performed locally and throughout the country. In 1945, they played to enthusiastic soldiers as part of a USO tour brought about by a letter-writing campaign from African-American GIs. Writing in a folksy style, Deans describes the lives of the girls in the orphanage and on the road in Jim Crow territory; this, ironically, was made even more difficult after the band integrated. The infectious joy of swing music comes across nicely with details about instrumentation and performances. A scary encounter with the police is also described. Cepeda’s colorful and richly textured full-bleed acrylic-and-oil paintings match the mostly upbeat mood with illustrations of the women happily playing various instruments, joyfully askew compositions evoking the big-band beat. The group did not stay together, but the final illustration opens the way for more music as a now-elderly Sweetheart hands over her trumpet to a smiling girl. Readers will certainly want to grab recordings and dance and swing to the sounds.
An appealing and informative composition aimed at a younger audience than Marilyn Nelson and Jerry Pinkney’s Sweethearts of Rhythm (2009). (author’s note, selected bibliography) (Informational picture book. 6-9)