Friday, February 6, 2015

Commemorate Leontyne Price And Black History Month With New Book

This Tuesday, February 10, will be the 88th birthday of soprano Leontyne Price. What better way to celebrate this legend than with a colorful new illustrated book honoring her life? Although distributed to a suggested age group of 5-9 years old, this book is a treasure for all ages: "A stunning picture-book biography of iconic African American opera star Leontyne Price. Born in a small town in Mississippi in 1927, the daughter of a midwife and a sawmill worker, Leontyne Price might have grown up singing the blues. But Leontyne had big dreams—and plenty to be thankful for—as she surrounded herself with church hymns and hallelujahs, soaked up opera arias on the radio, and watched the great Marian Anderson grace the stage. While racism made it unlikely that a poor black girl from the South would pursue an opera career, Leontyne’s wondrous voice and unconquerable spirit prevailed. Bursting through the door Marian had cracked open, Leontyne was soon recognized and celebrated for her leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera and around the world—most notably as the majestic Ethiopian princess in Aida, the part she felt she was born to sing. From award-winners Carole Boston Weatherford and Raul Colón comes the story of a little girl from Mississippi who became a beloved star—one whose song soared on the breath of her ancestors and paved the way for those who followed." [Source] It is also a wonderful way to commemorate Black History Month which takes place during February in the United States. Purchase the book by clicking here. Read a New York Times feature on the book, see more illustrations, and get information about Black History Month, after the jump.

"'Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century' is also a gorgeous creation, Carole Boston Weatherford’s folksy yet lyrical narration combining with Raul Colón’s distinctive yellow-toned etched watercolors to give a sense of indelible grandeur to the life story of the pioneering soprano. Weatherford sets the scene of Price’s childhood cinematically, evoking the “misery” awaiting most black children on the Delta: '1927. Laurel, Mississippi. The line between black and white was as wide as the Mississippi River was long.' But inside Price’s home we see a dignified scene, with her conservatively dressed parents looking on at their only child adoringly and making sure little Leontyne 'knew she was as good as anyone — black or white.' It’s a musical home, with opera on the radio Sundays and money saved up for a real piano and lessons, as well as a chance for Leontyne to see the great Marian Anderson perform, which 'sparked a light' in her. We follow Leontyne to college, where she expects to become a teacher, 'the concert stage out of reach for a black singer then.' But her vocal talent and drive is
recognized and encouraged, until she’s studying opera at Juilliard, then singing on a world tour that took her to La Scala and, finally, the Met, where she was among the very first African-American performers and received a famous 42-minute standing ovation, a detail sure to delight child readers. Colón’s illustrations of Leontyne on stage are especially breathtaking, with his rendition of her as Cleopatra almost powerful enough to supplant any reflexive mental image of Elizabeth Taylor as the Egyptian queen. On the last page, Weatherford reminds readers that even at the height of her international fame, Price was still 'just Leontyne, twisting all night long,' but I’m not sure that was necessary, since we’ve heard nothing so far about Price as a secret pop fan. I suppose one wouldn’t want children to get the impression that Price, who has been known to rock fur coats, pearls and turbans, is a snob, but isn’t there room in our pantheon of heroines for an actual diva?" [Source]

"Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month in America, is an annual observance in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in the United States and Canada in February and the United Kingdom in October. The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be 'Negro History Week.' This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates Black communities had celebrated
together since the late 19th century. The expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month was first proposed by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of the Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, in February 1970. In 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial, the informal expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government. President Gerald Ford spoke in regards to this, urging Americans to 'seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.'" [Source]

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