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Blues and Jazz are kissing cousins in the music world. With roots in Africa and branches stretching from New Orleans to Chicago and everywhere in between there’s a special flavor and feeling in each musician’s take depending on where they’re from, who their influences are, the year they were born and more. Since it began primarily with slaves there were a lot of local influences that stayed local for the first little while until recordings became easier and outsiders began to take notice.
Today we’re spotlighting a few of the early (but by no means earliest) pioneers of the blues and jazz music scene.
Born near the Mississippi Delta in 1915, McKinley Morganfield, was immersed in the blues from an early age. His Grandma Della had other ideas for how she wanted to him to live his life, “but Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.” Eventually he left the racially segregated south and his life as a share-cropper and migrated to Chicago where he soaked up the jazz, bebop, and blues. He fought his way to a recording contract and became influential to everyone from the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and more.
The text has chunks of rhythmic repetition interspersed with the story. The illustrations are rough, earthy, and brimming with life just like the music and musician they are portraying. There’s an author’s note, a bibliography, and further listening list for readers who want to know more.
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters
Written by: Michael Mahin
Illustrated by: Evan Turk
Number of Pages: 32
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017
Age Range: 6-10
Muddy Waters is one of those people you know, even if you don’t know you know them. Modern musicians continue to be inspired him or by those who were inspired by him. Here’s one of his own and one by Son House who came a bit earlier and was one of his inspirations. (Shout out to my friend Katie who introduced me to Son House several years ago. He’s become a repeat player on many a playlist in my world!)
Women didn’t always get a public voice in music outside of church settings. And they didn’t often get a chance to be leaders or headliners on their own. Lil Hardin Armstrong did it all.
Born in Memphis in 1898 she played her mother’s organ and took lessons from a young age, including playing for her local church. Her mother insisted on the classics but Lil was more influenced by W. C. Handy and other jazzy neighbors. She earned a spot as a piano player in the New Orleans Creole Jazz Band and migrated north to Chicago where she met Louis Armstrong. Together they wrote songs, played music, and formed their own band. Later she toured in Europe, designed clothing, opened a restaurant, and eventually died doing what she loved best, playing music.
Excellent back matter includes a little more about Lil, a list of songs to listen to, photographs, a timeline, author’s note, bibliography, and more. I’d heard of Lil Armstrong, knowing her as the wife of jazz great Louis Armstrong, but hadn’t realized she was a jazz great in her own right. I loved learning more about this amazing powerhouse of a woman.
Born to Swing: Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Life in Jazz
Written by: Mara Rockliff
Illustrated by: Michele Wood
Number of Pages: 32
Publisher: Calkins Creek, 2018
Age Range: 6-10
We’ll keep on trucking through the years to another jazz legend tomorrow. Hope to see you then!