A biography of Lil Hardin Armstrong, who “was just born to swing,” one of the first female musicians to make it in the world of jazz.
Lil Hardin was born in Memphis, near Beale Street, “where the music never stopped.” Though her mother said blues was “Devil’s music,” Lil Hardin was allowed to play the family organ and at church, where she jazzed up the old church hymns. The Great Migration swept Lil Hardin and her mother up in its tide to Chicago, where a job playing piano in a music store led to gigs, even though a woman playing the piano in a jazz band was unheard of. As a fixture in Chicago’s jazz scene, she met Louis Armstrong, and the pair eventually married. Lil Hardin—whose reputation was cemented—used her fame to help boost Louis’, and after the couple parted ways, she enjoyed a successful career as a songwriter, musician, and bandleader. Rockliff relates the jazz pioneer’s story in Lil Hardin’s imagined and enthusiastic first person, her conversational address developing an appropriately big personality. Wood’s bright, naïve acrylics complement the narrative style, but they do not evoke the smooth, accomplished sounds that were Lil Hardin’s musical signature. Curiously, despite a closing photograph that evinces many different skin tones in Lil Hardin’s combo, characters are almost all portrayed as the same medium brown color.
Unfortunately, this ode to an undeservedly overlooked legend does not hit all the right notes. (biographical note, discography, timeline, bibliography, author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)