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Thursday, July 9, 2015

LIttle Melba and Her Big Trombone, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison. Lee & Low Books, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2014. $21.95 ages 8 and up

"From as far back as her memory would go, Melba loved the sounds of music. Blues, jazz, and gospel rhythms danced in her head -
the plink of a guitar,
the hummm of a bass,
the thrum-thrum of a drum ... "

Not many people know about Melba Doretta Liston ... yet! This lovely and lively picture book biography will change that. Melba was raised in Kansas City during the Depression. It was the perfect birthplace for someone who would grow to love music as much as Melba loved it:

"The year she was born was 1926. The place was Kansas City, where you could reach out and feel the music. The avenues were lined with jazz clubs, street bands, and folks harmonizing on every corner. All the hot music makers made sure they had a gig in KC."

Music was a part of her being, and she listened every chance she got. She was only 7 when she discovered she could make the music she wanted to make on a trombone. Her mother and her grandpa gave her love and support, and Melba taught herself to play with difficulty, and a great deal of patience. She was asked to play for a radio show one year later.

When times got tough in Kansas City, Melba and her mother moved to Los Angeles. She excelled at school and was soon an accomplished member of her high school band. Other band members proved jealous and made life very difficult for the young girl. She used music to calm her while she learned more and more. Asked to join a jazz band at 17, she began a life of travel. People who heard her play knew they were in the company of a 'master musician'.

Through tough times while touring in the bigoted southern states with Billie Holiday, music kept Melba in the public eye. When she considered giving up, those who loved her music would not let her. Thankfully!

The text itself almost sings. It clearly shows its audience the best and worst of Melba's experiences as a talented, unique musician. Frank Morrison's oil paintings further enhance our understanding of Melba's story. He uses wonderful lines and expression to show her love for the music she felt blessed to play.

An afterword, a selected discography, a list of sources and websites are found in the back matter. Use the list to find something to play in the background as you share this with your students, and with your own children.

"Spread the word! Melba Doretta Liston was something special."


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