Charleston poet laureate writes children’s book about black music
Charleston’s perpetually creative poet laureate Marcus Amaker has a new project just in time for the school year. This one is aimed specifically at the next generation of music enthusiasts.
“Black Music Is”, a new illustrated book for children ages 8 to 12, is a collaboration with Charleston artist Nathan Durfee. It was created as a love letter to African American music and history.
The book is the first to be published by Free Verse Press, a new independent publisher of poetry books in the Charleston area. The company also produces the Charleston Free Verse Poetry Festival.
Through rhythmic poetry and captivating visuals, “Black Music Is” explores the role of black music in culture around the world. And he does it through the ears of an endearing main character of the feline variety. A nod to jazz, his name is Bebop the cat.
“I’m a music nerd and care a lot about what the students learn,” Amaker said in a statement. “I hope this book deepens someone’s appreciation of what black musicians have done for our global musical landscape.”
To further illuminate the cultural journey, Amaker collaborated with acclaimed Charleston artist Nathan Durfee, whose pop-surreal illustrations create a whimsical backdrop for the rhythmic poem.
Carrying word and image, “Black Music Is” introduces pre-teen readers to five musical genres, all created by Bebop as he plays records of black musicians. Genres include blues, hip-hop, rock, bluegrass, and jazz. Each disc takes the cat and the readers to a different sonic and colorful world.
Along the way, they discover the main black musical artists, including Big Mama Thornton, BB King, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Max Roach, Prince and Alice Coltrane. The book also covers modern day musicians including Our Native Daughters, Saba, Rapsody, Big Joanie, and Black Thought, among others.
Amaker, the recent Academy of American Poets scholarship recipient, has long demonstrated a creative skill set that spans artistic disciplines, including poetry, music, and design, and is well versed in in the fusion of art forms for expressive purposes.
Last year he collaborated on the classic album “Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers”, the album released by Chicago baritone Will Liverman and pianist Paul Sanchez which quickly rose to the charts. classic Billboard albums. For this, Amaker worked with composer Shawn E. Okpebholo on a composition for the second part of the work “Two Churches” or “Movement 2: The Rain”, which focused on the massacre at Emanuel AME Church.
Durfee, another prominent player in the Charleston art scene, is an artist renowned for his whimsical depictions of characters settling for difficult situations. He is also an expert in illustrating children’s books.
To celebrate the start of the school year, Amaker is donating free copies of the book to 150 local schools.
Throughout August, Amaker makes local appearances to celebrate the book’s release, including events at 4 p.m. on August 28 at Roving Literacy and 9:30 a.m. on August 29 at Cafe Sightsee.
Copies of the book can be purchased from Amaker’s website, marcusamaker.com.