Kirkus Reviews QR Code
GIVE ME WINGS by Kathy Lowinger


How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World

by Kathy Lowinger

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-55451-747-3
Publisher: Annick Press

A biography of Ella Sheppard and the Jubilee Singers, the choir she co-founded.

Lowinger’s second book after Shifting Sands: Life in the Times of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (2014) does a lot in 144 pages. While Sheppard’s life story and the Jubilee Singers’ history make up most of the main text, the author packs the first half of the book with graphics and sidebars about, for example, the routes and history of the European slave trade, important historical figures like Nat Turner, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain, and minstrel shows to contextualize what Sheppard and her choir faced as they brought the music of enslaved black people to the rest of the United States and the world. Each chapter is full of paintings, postcards, and other visuals and ends with a minihistory of one of the songs in the Singers’ repertoire. An archival woodcut displays the mask and shackles a slave might be forced to wear, for instance—chilling testimony indeed. An introduction explains that quotes are taken from Sheppard’s diaries or letters. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t do enough with the one thing that makes the subjects narrative-worthy in the first place: the music.

This is a book that cries out for publication as an e-book with links to the music (and fewer sidebars); till then, readers will have to make do by finding the music on their own.

(maps, timeline, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 11-13)