Interview with Katheryn Russell-Brown

It’s back to days of alarm clocks and paying attention in class.
This summer I found a new author who will be easy to pay attention to, for Bookseedstudio’s first interview of the fall semester.

I met the author of LITTLE MELBA and HER BIG TROMBONE
after sweet trombone sounds accompanied her lively library talk.

It was the most musical children’s book signing I’ve ever attended.

Extra fun floated through the room of our downtown library, because Dr. Russell-Brown’s daughter Sasha, a fifth-grader, stood proudly on stage, playing select notes on her very own big trombone.
When the author kindly asked if a little boy in the enrapt audience
wanted to try out Sasha’s big trombone, he did! It almost felt like it
could be a scene from the author’s lyrical Coretta Scott King honor book, illustrated beautifully by Frank Morrison with signature elongated touches. But, we were attending another nourishing event
for readers at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library.


Some background, from the story

Melba Doretta Liston grew up pushing the pedals on a player piano, while
beloved aunties danced in the living room. She was blessed with a mom who
bought the seven-year-old girl a trombone on the spot when Melba spied it offered
by a Kansas City traveling vendor. She insisted THAT was the instrument for her!
The rest is history. A history not widely known.
But it’s told for young readers via a spirited storytelling style in LITTLE MELBA.

Melba was one of the first women of any race to become a world-class trombone virtuoso – playing, composing and arranging. The back-of- the-book material shows a photograph of Melba with Quincy Jones. She also played for many others,
including Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and the Supremes.

artwork c. 2014 copyright, al rights reserved FRANK MORRISON from Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

artwork c. 2014 copyright, al rights reserved FRANK MORRISON from Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Melba experienced discrimination based on her race and for being a woman in a male-dominated artistic realm. Yet she performed all over the world, received many honors such as Jazz Master designation from the National Endowment for the Arts, and she eventually formed her own band. She was composing as recently as the 1990s. She was born in 1926 and died in 1999.

You might suspect the author is a music teacher but at the University of Florida College of Law, she is Dr. Katheryn Russell-Brown, professor of law and
director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations.

I know you’ll want to learn more about the author of LITTLE MELBA and HER BIG TROMBONE (Lee & Low Books) so let me bring her onstage.

Favorite music to listen to.
I’m a rhythm & blues girl, with particular affection for 1970s r & b. My list of favorite bands and singers is long. Let’s see, I love Earth Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers, the O’Jays, the Spinners, James Brown, the Emotions, the Whispers, Maze, Stevie Wonder, Heatwave, the Commodores, Rufus, Kool & the Gang, the Jackson 5, Deniece Williams, the Dramatics…. I could go on for pages, there were so many amazing groups of musicians.

Author you’d like to meet.
Hands down, Toni Morrison. She writes with a twinkle in her eye. She is a masterful writer. Her fiction has received lots of attention but she also wields a mighty pen when writing non-fiction (“Birth of a Nation ‘Hood) and she’s written children’s books to boot (my kids love “The Big Box”).

What fact about Melba Doretta Liston amazes you the most?
Her incredible intellect and perseverance.

How did you learn about Melba Liston?
I heard a wonderful NPR radio broadcast in 2010 called, “Melba Liston: Bones of an Arranger,” narrated by Nancy Wilson.

Some favorite children’s movies.
I have two favorites. “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the original with Gene Wilder) is one. It was absolutely magical. I saw it at the MacArthur/Broadway Mall in Oakland in 1971, when it first came out. The movie house was packed with kids who had been dropped off by their parents.

I also love “The Wiz” (1978). The music, the acting, and the production were fantastic. I’m thrilled that it will be back on Broadway next year. I’m taking my kids!

Future projects.
I have a few more stories up my sleeve. Please stay tuned!

Thank you, Katheryn.
It will be a pleasure to listen & stay tuned for more of your books.
Here is a website about Katheryn Russell-Brown

Those of us who are filling our book baskets with titles to read
this school year will want to add in LITTLE MELBA, which is a Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, illustrated by Frank Morrison. It fits several good connections including stories on

high-achieving girls & women

African-American role models

musical instrumentals, jazz & orchestras

Here are two websites about children’s books on girls & women
Amelia Bloomer List/ALA

KidLit Celebrates Women’s History Month (article by Katheryn Russell-Brown,
which includes a link to a video of a grown up Melba, performing)

Here are two websites about books on African-American topics
Coretta Scott King Book Awards
The Brown Bookshelf

Here is a website about children’s books on music

I hope your school year sings.

Newly minted. Song + story = WordofSouthFestival

If given a chance to waltz in pro bono time in the cause of literature,

who wouldn’t want to attend that dance?

And if this shimmy arrived wrapped up with seats at the feet of author Ann Patchett,

or before expressive storyteller Romona King, or with comics ace Nathan Archer leading children
in story-making, wouldn’t you do that?




So it was that I found myself signed on with a new Southern tradition this month – WordofSouth.
This festival of sound and story unfolded in my hometown, but I would have traveled for it,
just as it was designed to be enjoyed here by folks from far away.




Creative writers and performers from New York City – STORY PIRATES –
entertained. As did Gustafer YELLOWGOLD. And the Emmy-winning
actor Tony Hale, read from his new children’s book ARCHIBALD’S NEXT BIG THING,
(created with Tony Biaggne)


On the sound side of things, the stages rocked to SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK & also with the poignant melodies of Aaron Copland’s LINCOLN PORTRAIT, spoken by newly minted Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons.


It was so much wonderfulness. Even with April showers.


Storyteller Ann Patchett


What I kept thinking of, as I sat with writers on the floor at the feet of Ann Patchett was – Stephen King. Not that the two occupy the same genre bookshelves. But the last time I heard a novelist as generous in public speaking
in our town, it was masterwriter King, who spun personal story after story for us in a sweet – yes, sweet – way. And then, he genially autographed our daughter’s books in a privately memorable way.
Ann Patchett, wearing her stand-up comic mask well, gifted her audience with one story after another direct from her life. (Ann Patchett is on right, introduced by Mary Ann Lindley.)

Novelist Ann Patchett (right) introduced by Mary Ann Lindley

Now we know something of her sister/college administrator, of Ann’s own personal nun, the endearing employee who fled NYC, the endearing employee who sells poetry books for her in her headline grabbing store, Parnassus, Sparky & the shop’s dogs & lotsa other morsels readers & writers gobble like so much kibble.   On opening day a photo of Ann in her revolutionary bookstore in Nashville appeared on Page One of The New York Times. Newly opened indy bookstores that carry new books are a rarity. My hubby & I love visiting our two, which are a hike, WOS sponsor –THANK YOU Annie & Jordan – the bookshelf in nearby Georgia & down by the bay, Downtown Books & Purl.


Story Fort

So now onto the part of WordofSouth that stole my heart, as much as I loved
Ann Patchett’s and other main stage presentations & I now am committed to reading all her books that are out & will be published henceforth.


Story Fort is the WordofSouth
safe place for the youngest ones, a festival within a festival.  Artist Linda Hall, ghost tales-teller Doug Alderson & others were on hand to create fun for young ones. Danielle Shelton, who has impressive educational degrees with her name, brought her geetar & lovely voice to kneel on the Story Fort mats & create songs about the toddlers. She was a lively close-up wee ones’ entertainer.

My hubby & I saw many Story Fort events but we are human & weren’t able to spend time with every performances & art project, of the two days.

Danielle Shelton - Story Fort - WordofSouth Festival

Danielle Shelton – Story Fort – WordofSouth FestivalWe clapped along with our one-and-only-, beloved babytime/storytime/Legostime icon, “Mr. Gary” from our favorite local public book palace – the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library.  And we sang “This Land is Your Land” with the equally beloved, one and only duo of HOT TAMALE, (with Craig Reeder) which uniquely features musician and songwriter Adrian Fogelin. Adrian, my dear pal who appears in my posts now and again, is also a hot-off-the-press book-launching middle grade author, with SOME KIND OF MAGIC. And it’s her most recent novel for students, following the legendary CROSSING JORDAN & other titles, such as SORTA SISTERS. Her books justifiably win mega awards. It won’t be long before Publishers Weekly starts granting her column space, I predict.



Here are more, incomplete, images from WordofSouth. In a previous articles here at Bookseedstudio and over at Group Blog, I covered commemoration of Days of Rememrance, which we honored at Story Fort.

I felt fortunate to present to the kiddos three times in the Story Fort during the WOS weekend. Thank you to author Mark Mustian for originating this festival of sound and story. If you travel to attend book festivals WordofSouth has got the power to return, so keep visiting the site for the eventual posting of next spring’s date. Sponsors included the National Endowment for the Arts. And that’s company we like to keep.

Sara, Ayla &  Jan - Story Fort - WordofSouth Festival 2015

Sara, Ayla & Jan – Story Fort – WordofSouth Festival 2015

TCC scholar Briana Byrd  at WOS Festival's Story Fort

TCC scholar Briana Byrd at WOS Festival’s Story Fort