Black History Month- 10 Books for Children about Important Musicians

Many of you may not know that while I'm not DJing, dancing, or spending time in my favorite city of all (Minneapolis!) I am a nanny. I actually used to teach preschool and run children's programs, and I've always loved children's books.  

I decided to create a list of some of my favorite books for children about important black musicians spanning the last 100 years.  

1. Sugar Hill- Harlem's Historic Neighborhood

  • This book gives a bit of a highlight on Sugar Hill, a neighborhood in Harlem that grew many of the greats. It highlights musicians as well as artists. Look for the Duke, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis!

2. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

  • Melba Liston is one of my personal favorite early jazz musicians. She taught herself to play and by the time she was a teenager, was playing with some of the legends. Hers is a little known story, but I intend on making it more known. For all you lindyhoppers, Melba is the trombone in "Hey Ba Ba Re Bop."  I love her. 

3. When Marian Sang

  • Marian Anderson was an amazing contralto. She was not allowed to sing at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin. Eleanor Roosevelt twisted some arms and Marian sang to an integrated crowd of 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial, in 1939 (here is a link to that performance, and the stirring speech that introduced her!) She faced struggle after struggle, continued to fight and believe in herself, and succeeded. The Lincoln Memorial gained meaning for Civil Rights Movement because of her. Martin Luther King Jr. later chose the same spot because of her. She is an inspiration. 

4. Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat

  • This is just a charming book about Ella Fitzgerald. It shows bits and pieces of her life, from before she was a successful songbird up until her hit A-Tisket A-Tasket! While this book mentions a few tough subjects, it does not linger or get too deep. It shows how her love of jazz from age 8 blossomed in her life!

5. Charlie Parker played be bop

  • This book has a cadence as playful as bebop itself! It isn't so much about his life as it is about his rhythms and playful style. This book is fun to read to toddlers- and they will request it over and over again. 

6. Before John Was a Jazz Giant

  • This book is just what it sounds like- John Coltrane in his childhood years. It has a sweet way of describing the sounds he heard growing up in the South during the 1930's.

7. Mahalia Jackson, Walking with Kings and Queens

  • This book talks about Mahalia's love for gospel music from a young age. It shows Mahalia overcoming obstacles on her way to her dream- which led her to the march on Washington, singing "We Shall Overcome." This book inspires children to find their own voices. An excellent companion to this book is Martin & Mahalia.  It weaves together Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's speech that came after Mahalia's shout of "Tell them about your dream, Martin!" We all owe a lot to that woman. 

8. Jimi Sounds Like A Rainbow

  • Jimi, as a child, wanted to be everything. This book shows children how he took his world and interpreted it- first through ukelele, then a used guitar.  It chronicles his rise to fame, but does not touch on his sad early death.  It instead focuses on his immense talent, musical vision, and art.  

9. Little Stevie Wonder

  • This book is perfect for preschoolers.  In a riff on his famous song "Isn't She Lovely," the author shows about this young boy's life. Did you know that at the age of 11 he signed a motown recording contract? Wow!

10. When The Beat Was Born- DJ Kool Herc & the Creation of HIp Hop

  • This book is a fun one! It shows how DJ Kool Herc created a new way of playing music, giving longer interludes, and inspiring hip hop. He created the two turntable system that allowed him to do this, invited friends to speak over the tracks-inspiring rap- and got people dancing. 

I hope you find this post informative! There are many more that didn't make this first cut, but may be featured soon. Use these books to share your love of music with children!