Title: Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World
Author: Marilyn Nelson
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Publisher: Dial Books
Concepts: jobs, discrimination, economics of gender and race
Review: The late 1930s saw the formation of a swing-music band comprised of female students attending the Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi for low-income and orphaned African American students. Originally founded to raise money for the school, this big band had such talent and attracted so much attention that it toured all over the country and played to record-breaking crowds in such notable venues as the Howard Theatre, the Apollo Theatre, and the Savoy Ballroom.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm stood out for their ability to be taken seriously as musicians in the male-dominated world of jazz. The departure of many male musicians to serve in World War II helped this all-female band gain a foothold in the American music scene, but they continued to tour and record songs even after the war ended. The Sweethearts also stood out for their courage to defy the Southern Jim Crow laws and play as a racially-integrated band, which meant avoiding arrest by having the white members of the band wear wigs and dark makeup.
Rather than report these interesting events as a detailed narrative, Marilyn Nelson has chosen to communicate the band's story as a set of rhythmic poems written in the voices of the instruments. Jerry Pinkney has added further to the richness of the book with collages of different shapes of textured papers, music sheets, maps, and flowers superimposed on his dynamic sketches. The meticulous research that both Nelson and Pinkney conducted shines through clearly to make this volume a uniquely expressive work of historical fiction.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children