What a picture book – written in verse with toe-tapping words that sing across the page, by Marilyn Nelson, and illustrated with collage, colors, and scraps of historical photographs, plus musical notation by Jerry Pinkney.
This important part of America’s musical history – and Black history – was nearly forgotten. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm began as a response to the NEED for music – especially up-lifting, swing music – during the dark time of Depression, Dust Bowl, and World War II. The men were off fighting, including most musicians. People’s souls needed music. Could women – Black women – belt out jazz and swing tunes on trumpets, saxophones, slide trombones, guitar, and drums? You bet they could!
Nelson’s syncopated poetry jives alive with Pinkney’s layered watercolors in this look at the famous all-girl African-American swing band that toured the U.S., breaking attendance records, from 1937 to 1946. Nelson speaks in the voices of the band’s instruments. Pinkney used two voices in his illustrations, one over-lays the other. He presents authentic images of the women and the band, the audience and the swing dancers, but he also “interprets the times”: World War II, Victory Gardens, rations, the Japanese internment camps, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Jim Crow. One by one, Marilyn’s poetry speaks for the sound of the instrument and calls up the rich wail of swing music with varied meters, rhyme schemes, and free verse.
A chronology of the Sweethearts’ history enhances the poetry, informs the reader, and offers a depth of information as well as descriptions from both the illustrator and poet about how the ideas for this book unfolded.
(Published by Dial Books, 2009)