Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World by Kathy Lowinger. Annick Press, 2015. 144 pages.
The Warm-Up: A well written, well researched account of the Jubilee Singers using the experience of Ella Sheppard as the focal point. The Jubilee Singers were the former slaves who were the first students at Fisk University.
The Melody: Lowinger gives a fairly thorough account of Sheppard’s life as a whole. The main thrust of the book, though, is the rise and success of the Jubilee Singers. Lowinger doesn’t mince words about the racism and prejudice these brave young people faced, nor does she hide the brutality towards and injustice of the slaves in the U.S. prior to, during, and after the Civil War. The South wasn’t the only bastion of hate and bigotry, and the Civil War didn’t immediately solve all the problems. Lowinger also offers information on various Jubilee Singers and those that helped the Singers. A biography of Ella Sheppard, yes, but this is also a terrific social history of the U.S. during the mid-1800s that is more than a slave narrative, a cry for abolitionist causes, or an account of the differences between the South or the North.
The Applause: Well done, Ms. Lowinger! More emotional connection with Shepherd and her fellow singers might have been too much for middle school and high school readers, but she offers sophisticated writing, well researched information, lyric to old spirituals, and plenty of maps, photographs, and other memorabilia reproductions to interest any reader age 10 and up. Lowinger also alludes to the Christian faith of Shepherd and some of the others without making this a main focus. Those who don’t share Shepherd’s faith will not be offended, but those of us who do very much appreciate this aspect!
Note for concerned parents: there is some heavy content in this book, as is fitting with the subject material. One historical image (not a photograph) shows a mob beating a black man to death. Scenes like this, references at the beginning to male masters taking their female slaves to bed, and the like make this a book better suited for upper middle grades and up if you are dealing with sensitive young readers.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.