A book can be the entrance to a whole new world for children. Books can make otherwise complicated subjects easy to digest. If you are introducing your students to the history of jazz, a book can ease this entrance.
Jazz is a musical form characterized by improvisation and syncopation. It is a combination of African music (rhythmic intricacy) and European music (harmonic structure).
New Orleans is considered by many to be the birthplace of jazz. Other major cities associated with jazz are: Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Musicians in each city have put their distinctive stamp on jazz.
Its history coincides with the urbanization of black Americans. Therefore, jazz has always been an urban music.
The type of jazz known as ‘Swing’ first appeared during the Great Depression. The optimistic feeling of the music lifted spirits. This gave rise to the ‘Swing Era’ when swing dancing was the national dance.
When Grandmama Sings pays homage to this era and to early jazz singers who got their beginnings touring the South.
When Grandmama Sings takes place in the 1940’s. Belle’s grandmother is a local singer in a small town in Mississippi. She gets an opportunity to go on a tour of the South and she takes Belle with her.
When Grandmama Sings shows what life was life for black entertainers who traveled from city to city to get their name known. Grandmama is protective of Belle but she doesn’t shelter her from the harsh realities of life.
They encounter separate hotels for black and whites. They can’t eat in a restaurant after a show because of the color of their skin. Grandmama meets with injustice in New Orleans when a club owner wants her to perform without pay. And when she performs in a big venue in Atlanta the audience is segregated. Whites sit on the main floor and black people have to sit in the balcony.
It is important for students to read books like When Grandmama Sings because arts programs in schools are diminishing and students are not being exposed to music. It is important that students learn to appreciate different types of music. They should know that certain types of music were born out of struggle. If students hear music and can read about the challenges the artists faced, they will have a better appreciation of what it takes to build a career.
Reading books like When Grandmama Sings opens the door to discussion about the different genres of music, such as classical, blues, country, hip hop, rap, etc. Students can discuss how the different styles of music affects emotions.
Music is the fabric of our society. Children’s books set in the music world can help build imagination and foster intellectual curiosity, while at the same time imparting nuggets of history.
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