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.

images

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 LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE
https://www.leeandlow.com/books/2854
Here is a website about Katheryn Russell-Brown
http://krbrown.net/CHILDRENS.html

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
https://ameliabloomer.wordpress.com/

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

http://kidlitwhm.blogspot.com/2015/03/little-melba-and-her-big-trombone.html

Here are two websites about books on African-American topics
Coretta Scott King Book Awards
http://www.ala.org/emiert/cskbookawards
The Brown Bookshelf
http://thebrownbookshelf.com/about/

Here is a website about children’s books on music

https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/childrens-music

I hope your school year sings.