Tap, tap, tap, tap.
That’s often the start of some good music. The sound of sticks hitting cymbals. The pat of a hand on a stomach or thigh, just keeping the beat. It’s what your toes do when you’re about to break out into a dance because the tunes are just so good. Tap, clap, tap, and read “She Raised Her Voice! by Jordannah Elizabeth, illustrated by Briana Dengoue.
When she was just a little girl, Jordannah Elizabeth loved listening closely to music and she paid attention to how it made her feel. Hearing Nina Simone, for instance, changed her life and sent her searching for other Black female singers and their works. There were many of them, and each inspired her to reach for her dreams.
Take R&B singer Anita Baker. Her father was absent from the moment she was born and her mother died with Baker was just two years old. She grew up in foster care until she was twelve, and then she was raised by her foster sister.
Singer Natalie Cole’s father was wildly famous but she wanted her own career. Sadly, though, after two successful albums, Natalie “began to do drugs that made her quite sick.” She had to work very hard to get her career back on track.
The Pointer Sisters were only allowed to listen to Christian music when they were small. When singer Mahalia Jackson was “a wealthy international star,” she experienced racism; singing, she figured, soothed the souls of those who were likewise going through the same thing. Libba Cotton was a left-handed guitar player, “making her stand out.” Billie Holiday had the ability to improvise with both tune and lyrics. Bob Dylan was said to have fallen in love with Mavis Staples.
And if you think you’re way too young to start finding your dream, get this: Tracy Chapman started writing her own songs at age eight. Janet Jackson performed with her brothers at age ten. Chaka Khan had her own band at age eleven. Gladys Knight won a TV-show contest at age eight. Bessie Smith started performing at age ten.
The latest music is appealing, you have to admit that, but you also want to introduce your child to the old tunes. “She Raised Her Voice!” is a good way to begin.
By stepping back and forth through a century or so of song, and with a willingness to tell the unvarnished truth, author Jordannah Elizabeth weaves a wide range of biographies of Black female performers into a sort of literary old-school mix-tape. Elizabeth then extends your child’s musical instruction by challenging young readers to sample the work of the singers in her book, and to pay attention to how it makes them feel.
Adults may be surprised at who’s not inside this book – no Josephine Baker, no Mary Wells, no Miriam Makeba, no Donna Summer – but these omissions leave room to continue the lessons for your 8-to-14-year-old by yourself. But first, start here: “She Raised Her Voice! is a book to tap into.