Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring Reading 2018 Born to Swing: Lil Hardin Armstrong's Life in Jazz


Lil Hardin Armstrong was a jazz pioneer and yet her name is not recognized by many people. Yet, if you mention her husband, Louis Armstrong, you get nods and smiles. Part of that is probably due to the way women and female musicians were viewed during Lil's time. Band leaders and top-paid musicians were male, and women were there to sing backup or to listen adoringly. But without Lil's help, we may never have heard of Louis Armstrong. 

The book traces Lil's life from where she grew up in Memphis, home of Beale Street and the blues. Although her mother didn't want her to listen to that "Devil's music," the influence seeped into the way Lil played the hymns on the church organ. And when she lost her place during music lessons, she would improvise and make up her own tunes. She moved with her family to Chicago and heard more great musicians of the time like Jelly Roll Morton, finally earning a place as pianist for a jazz band. From those early music lessons to her marriage to Louis, to the Great Depression and even taking jazz to Paris after the war - Lil played hard and with a beat. She was swinging and improvising and doing it with style. 

Michele Wood's illustrations show events like Lil singing in church, her jazz wedding, and fronting a combo on stage in Paris. "Hot Miss Lil" is easy to spot in her bright yellow dresses. Back matter includes a brief biographical essay, a couple of archival photos, a list of Lil's songs available online, a timeline of her life, an author's note, and a bibliography.

This is a great addition to picture book biography collections in schools and children's library sections. It would fit well into lessons on music history, the Great Migration, Black History Month, and Women's History Month.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

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