One thing I love about music is it is reflective of whatever is going on in the world. Some of these musicians used their art as a way to express their feelings about their environment. Some made music to escape their reality. Others on this list made music from pure love. As a former musician (elementary school counts, right? lol), I can appreciate all their contributions to their passion for music.
I will update this list as I find more books! Follow me on Instagram to get updates and ideas for other picture books! If there’s a book you think I should add, comment below!
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A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown
This is an amazing book about the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin (1942-2018). You’ll learn all about her childhood and how it influenced to become a superstar! Bookshop Affiliate Link
How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz by Jonah Winter
Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941) was an early jazz musician who is known by some as the creator of jazz. This book introduces you to Jelly Roll Morton’s recipe for jazz.
Birth of the Cool: How the Great Miles Davis Found His Sound by Kathleen Cornell Berman
Miles Davis (1926-1991) was a jazz musician who played the trumpet and was a composer. In Birth of Cool, we learn how Miles turns his love of music into a successful career. Bookshop Affiliate Link
When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop By Laban Carrick Hill
Clive “DJ Kool Herc” Campbell (1955-) was born in Jamaica but moved to New York City when he was 13. He brought to the United States his passion for music and his longing to become a DJ. Playing around at home, he creates something that will change the sound of music forever.
Since DJ Kool Herc was born in Jamaica, he is technically not African American, but I thought it was essential to include him on this list. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown
Melba Liston (1926-1999) was a self-taught trombone player from Kansas City, Missouri. In Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, we follow Melba’s journey to becoming a renowned jazz musician. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: a Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix By Gary Golio
Before the guitarist James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (1942-1970) became a superstar he was just a kid that loved music. In this book, we learn how he was determined to become a star. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Bessie Smith and the Night Riders By Sue Stauffacher
This book is based on a real event that happened to the musician Bessie Smith (1894-1937) . One night while performing, Bessie gets some unexpected and unwanted visitors. After this night, her fans learn that Bessie’s voice isn’t the only thing powerful about her.
Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (1986-) is a New Orleans musician, known for playing the trombone and trumpet. As a child, he wanted to be in a band so bad he started one with his neighborhood friends. In this book, we learn how he got his big break! Bookshop Affiliate Link
Harlem’s Little Blackbird:Florence Mills By Renee Watson
The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford
The Roots of Rap is not about one musician; it is about all of the artists that built the foundation of the genre. In this book, you will find credits to poets like Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar to musicians like James Brown. Of course, the original O.G.’s like DJ Kool Herc, The Sugarhill, Gang, and Kurtis Blow get their recognition too. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald By Roxane Orgill
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) did not have any easy childhood, but she didn’t let it stop her. Find out how she finally got a chance to make it big. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song By Gary Golio
Billie Holiday (1915-1959) knew she wanted to be somebody at a young age. At 15 years old she began performing in Harlem. Eventually Billie got tired of the discrimination she and others faced and agreed to sing a song that would express the pain of racism. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Dizzy By Jonah Winter
When Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993) was a kid he got in trouble for breaking all the rules. As he got older, he learned how breaking music rules could help him become known around the world.
Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey by Gary Golio
John Coltrane (1926-1967) learned to play the saxophone in the basement of a church. Spirit Seeker takes us through the ups and downs of this talented musician’s career.
Although it is tastefully done, this book does mention his drug and alcohol abuse.
When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson By Pam Munoz Ryan
When Marian (1897-1993) Sang gives you a glimpse into the life of Marian Anderson. Since I didn’t know much about her before reading the book, I like that the book started with her life as a child and ended when she became a professional singer. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra By Andrea Davis Pinkney
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington’s (1899-1974) parents made the decision to enroll him in piano lessons. At the time, Duke was not pleased, he wanted to play baseball. Eventually Duke learned to love the piano and would go on to become a critically acclaimed jazz composer. Bookshop Affiliate Link
Satchmo’s Blues By Alan Schroeder
Do you know who Satchmo is? It’s Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)! In Satchmo’s Blues, we learn how he gets his first trumpet and we can infer on how it would change his life forever.
If you liked this list, check out the Ultimate Diverse Picture Book List! The books on this list are perfect for school or home!