Lil Hardin, dubbed “the first lady of jazz,” gets a loving ode in this biography in free verse.
Raised by “Mama and Grandma / in Memphis, Tennessee, / two blocks from / wild, wailin’ Beale Street,” Lil was a precocious musician from childhood. But the night life of Beale Street with its “devil’s music” pulled her away from the proper, ladylike college life her mother wanted for her. She got a job at a music store and then won a place in an all-male band, an exceptional feat at the time. She met Louis Armstrong, a shy trumpet player, when they played in the same band. She told him he couldn’t stay playing second trumpet and was behind much of his success. “Dang, they were musical royalty— / inventing / a new kind of sound— / makin’ / jazz.” As she earlier demonstrated in Josephine (illustrated by Christian Robinson, 2014), Powell is a die-hard fan of jazz, and it shows in the hum of her lines. She writes in her introduction that she hopes this biography inspires readers “to explore early jazz—and makes you want to get up and dance.” On both counts, her writing succeeds. Himes’ ink-and-graphite illustrations are inspired by the time period and add to the immersive feel of the work.
Brimming with a contagious love of jazz and its first lady, this work brings down the house. (notes, timeline, glossary, resources, sources, index) (Verse biography. 8-14)