Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone By Katheryn Russell-Brown, Illustrated by Frank Morrison (2014) – hardcover 

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Little Melba and Her Big Trombone tells the little-known story of one of the most sought-after musicians of the 20th century, jazz trombonist Melba Liston. She first picked up a trombone at age seven and was mostly self-taught, making for a perfect children’s story that is sure to inspire any young, budding musician. There are so many details packed into this story. It is evident that Russell-Brown researched extensively for this book. My favorite detail is the anecdote about Melba’s first attempts at playing the trombone. As a little girl playing a not-so-little instrument, she struggled to push out the trombone slide. Her arms were too short! She almost gave up right there and then, but with a little encouragement from Grandpa she adjusted by tilting her head sideways to extend her reach. And the rest is history! 

The story goes on to describe how a young Black female from the segregated South became a touring musician by the time she was a teenager. She faced plenty of hardships along the way but ultimately came out on top as one of the most sought-after collaborators of the 20th century. Liston truly is an unsung hero of jazz. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a wonderful tribute to yet another African American pioneer who’s story has been erased from the history books. 

Morrison’s oil-paint illustrations are so delightful, and the perfect accompaniment to Russel-Brown’s lively text. She provides an extensive “Afterword,” “Selected Discography,” and “Author’s Sources” for further exploration.

Take-away message: Never give up on your passion! Liston faced many hardships as a Black female musician in the segregated South. She did give up at one point in her career, instead turning to teaching, but she always found her way back to music. It’s what she knew best and what always made her happy.

TAGS: female lead, Black, Notable POC, hardcover

Watch and listen! I’ve never heard a trombone sound so good

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