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Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History

by Lesa Cline-Ransome ; illustrated by James E. Ransome

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: April 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2362-0
Publisher: Holiday House

This married author-illustrator team (Light in the Darkness, 2013, etc.) here highlights the innovative, barrier-breaking collaboration of African-American Wilson and Jewish-American Goodman.

Cline-Ransome’s staccato verse narrative articulates the musicians’ parallel paths to their eventual collaboration. She contrasts their backgrounds, describing dedicated musical training, early jazz influences and stints in various bands. (Wilson, the son of Tuskegee educators, studied music theory in college in Alabama, while Goodman got free synagogue music lessons and gigged around Chicago, quitting school at 14.) The two are introduced in Queens, N.Y., in 1935 and click during an impromptu jam. Benny forms a trio with Wilson and drummer Gene Krupa, overcoming—in April 1936 in Chicago—an initial reluctance to appear with Wilson, making them the first interracial band to perform in public. That same year, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton joins up, making it a quartet. Ransome’s watercolors utilize a palette rich in twilight-blue, indigo and yellow, punctuated with sienna, red and green. In lively double-page spreads, he captures the band’s dedication to practicing and recording together, as well as the verve and excitement of their live shows. Two pages of background notes include more about the musicians, a timeline of jazz events and a brief “Who’s Who” of some of jazz’s giants.

A solid exploration of a resonant musical partnership at a historically significant moment in American music. (Informational picture book. 6-9)