Staff Picks March 2018: American Singers, American Song

| March 10, 2018

The March Staff Picks collection, American Singers, American Song, on the second floor of the Teachers College Gottesman Libraries, features profiles of singers from the 1870s to the present, including such notables as the Jubilee Singers, Sophie Tucker, Woody Guthrie, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Marian Anderson, Odetta, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, and Queen Latifah. There are song anthologies and stories about some of my favorite genres of American popular music, including gospel, the blues, jazz, folk music, and rock & roll. Entire books explore the roots and significance of famous American songs, like We Shall Overcome. There’s even a comic book by a fan of Elvis Presley!

Pop music in all its diversity is one of this country’s richest and most lasting contributions to the world. Shout, Sister, Shout!: Ten Girl Singers Who Shaped a Century, Roxane Orgill

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 9.49.01 AMThis exhibit coincides with Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM), a celebration sponsored each March by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). NAfME offers many ways for educators to get involved. Think about sharing with your students a personal story of how music education impacted your life. For me, it was learning to read music as a child. While studying piano wasn’t particularly successful, I never forgot the music reading skills I acquired in the process. Later, when the birth of my children inspired me to sing, I volunteered to lead sing-alongs at their nursery school. Subsequently, I joined a choir. Then, I founded an a cappella mixed-voice jazz/pop quintet. Finally, I performed on small NYC stages as a cabaret chanteuse. The foundation upon which I developed all these skills was that childhood introduction to music.

In my opinion, the most engaging published works of music and music literature amplify an interest our students may already have, while also introducing them to something new. Some take original forms, such as comics. Others offer novel supplements, like art museum reproductions. Many place the story of a singer, song, or music genre in a historic context with valuable archival images. Here’s what makes some of the books in the March Staff Picks my favorites:

Profiles of singers and song anthologies may be found in the CURR section of the Gottesman Libraries, on the second floor. They are classified under two Library of Congress (LC) mnemonic symbols: M, for music scores; and ML, for literature on music. Several of the books on exhibit are accompanied by CDs.


African American Musicians by Eleanora E. Tate, Jim Haskins, general editor. Profiles of 27 African American musicians, organized into four historical periods: the early 19th century; the Civil War and Reconstruction; the early 20th century; and modern times.

Big Star Fallin’ Mama: Five Women in Black Music by Hettie Jones, foreword by Nelson George. Profiles of African-American singers Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, and Aretha Franklin. Genres: gospel, the blues, jazz.

Ella Fitzgerald: the Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. A picture book about the jazz singer.

Gonna Sing My Head Off!: American Folk Songs for Children, collected and arranged by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Allen Garns. A folk song anthology.

Home on the Range: John A. Lomax and His Cowboy Songs by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by S.D. Schindler. A picture book about the folk music preservationist, John A. Lomax.

Janis Joplin: Rise up Singing by Ann Angel, introduction by Sam Andrew. A biography of the rock & roll musician.

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music that Changed the World by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson, and Jared Levine. Profiles of 27 musicians, including: Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley (rock & roll); Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday (jazz); Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan (folk music); Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline (country); and Aretha Franklin and James Brown (soul). Two CDs included.

Mahalia Jackson: the Voice of Gospel and Civil Rights by Barbara Kramer. A biography of the gospel singer and Civil Rights activist.

Mahalia: a Life in Gospel Music by Roxane Orgill. A biography of the gospel singer and Civil Rights activist.

Marian Anderson: A Great Singer by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack. A biography of the contralto.

Odetta, the Queen of Folk, conceived and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, poem by Samantha Thornhill. A picture book about the folk singer.

Shake, Rattle & Roll: The Founders of Rock & Roll by Holly George-Warren, illustrated by Laura Levine. Profiles of 14 founders of rock & roll: Bill Haley, Fats Domino, LaVern Baker, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Wanda Jackson, Ritchie Valens, and James Brown.

Shake, Rattle & Turn that Noise Down!: how Elvis Shook Up Music, Me, and Mom by Mark Alan Stamaty. A comic book by an Elvis Presley fan.

Shout, Sister, Shout!: Ten Girl Singers Who Shaped a Century by Roxane Orgill. Profiles of ten American female singers of the 20th century, including Sophie Tucker, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Anita O’Day, Joan Baez, Bette Midler, and Madonna. Genres include: vaudeville, the blues, Broadway and movie musical theater, jazz, folk music, rock & roll, and country.

Slave Spirituals and the Jubilee Singers by Michael L. Cooper. A song anthology.

Songs of the Wild West, commentary by Alan Axelrod, arrangements by Dan Fox. A song anthology.

The Blues Singers: Ten Who Rocked the World by Julius Lester, illustrated by Lisa Cohen. Profiles of ten black singers of the blues: Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Mahalia Jackson, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, B. B. King, Ray Charles, Little Richard, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman. A profile of contralto and Civil Rights activist, Marian Anderson.

This Is My Song: A Collection of Gospel Music for the Family by Vy Higginsen, illustrated by Brenda Joysmith, musical arrangements by Wesley Naylor. A song anthology.

This Land Was Made for You and Me: the Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie by Elizabeth Partridge. A biography of the folk singer.

We Shall Overcome: A Song that Changed the World by Stuart Stotts, illustrated by Terrance Cummings, foreword by Pete Seeger. A history of the famous song, We Shall Overcome. CD included.

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. A picture book about the famous song, We Shall Overcome.

Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People by Bonnie Christensen. A picture book about the folk singer.