Second-novelist Lambright (The Justus Girls, 2001) pays lively homage to Philly’s black music scene through the interlocking and overlapping stories of four stouthearted ladies.
Young freelancer Laverne (Legs) Diamond gets an intriguing new assignment. Track down the Sweethearts of Soul, commands Black Music magazine: find Ruth Thomas, Adeline Lights, Venus Jones, and Brenda Wade, and then interview them, because this singing group that made it big back in the 1960s is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Naturally, the assignment soon develops complications. The Sweethearts are still around and still living in Philadelphia, but the easy part ends there. In the first place, they’re not eager to speak to Legs; in the second, they’re barely speaking to each other. But our heroine has the stuff of good reporters. She senses worth in the very difficulties she’s encountered, and is she ever right. Little by little, the Sweethearts begin to trust her and open up; as they do, Legs in effect goes to school. Philly’s seminal role in rock-and-roll history becomes vivid to her, but even more educational is what the Sweethearts reveal about themselves: their loves and hates, their grace under pressure, the true nature of their “sisterhood.” Foundlings all, they were taken in separately and then lovingly, carefully raised by the couple they called MuDear and PawPaw. “Oh, angels we were,” says Venus, with her characteristic grin. “I do believe we must have been the purest, shiniest, whitest little black girls in Philadelphia.” The Sweethearts’ often poignant, sometime hilarious stories teach Legs a lot. She learns to admire their toughness, to treasure their friendship—and, yes, at the close, she learns the importance of red panties for large occasions.
Sentimental at times, sure, but in a Dickensian way that’s thoroughly entertaining.