A Band of Angels

  • A Band of Angels

January 1, 2002
Aladdin Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-8

Winner of the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text

ALA Notable

A Band of Angels is fiction, but it is based on real events and people. The character of Ella was inspired by Ella Sheppard Moore, who was born February 4, 1851, in Nashville, Tennessee. Her father was able to free himself and young Ella from slavery, but before he could buy freedom for Ella's mother she was sold away. Ella was raised in Cincinnati, where she took music lessons. At fifteen, she was left penniless when her father died. She arrived at Fisk School in 1868 with only six dollars.

Fisk was opened in 1866 as a school for former slaves and began offering college classes in 1871. That year, in a desperate attempt to save Fisk from closing, a music teacher named George White set out with a group of students on a singing tour to raise money. Although at first they only sang popular music of the day, they soon became famous for introducing spirituals to the world.

Ella Sheppard was the pianist for the Jubilee Singers on their historic concert tours, which raised enough money to save the school and build Jubilee Hall, the first permanent structure in the South for the education of black students. Ella later married George Moore, had three children, and located her mother and a sister. She died in 1914. Today her great-granddaughter is a librarian at Fisk University who shares the history of the Jubilee Singers with visitors.

Although none graduated from Fisk, the original Jubilee Singers were recognized with honorary degrees in 1978. Today, Jubilee Singers at Fisk University continue to keep alive a rich musical tradition that includes such songs as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Many Thousand Gone," and "Go Down, Moses."

From Publishers Weekly
In a starred review of this story inspired by a groundbreaking African-American chorus founded in 1871, PW wrote, "Scenes of the chorus lost in song voices raised, eyes closed reveal the courage and heart of these trailblazing singers." Ages 5-9.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal
Grade 1-5. This picture book is both touching and inspirational. The narrative is written from the point of view of the great-great-granddaughter of Ella Sheppard, one of the original Jubilee Singers from the Fisk School in Nashville, TN, the first school for freed slaves. As Aunt Beth tells about the struggles of Ella and the rest of the chorus to raise money to save their school, the girl imagines what her great-great-grandmother might have thought or felt. The singers traveled throughout the North after the Civil War performing popular music. However, it was only when they began to perform the "jubilee" or spiritual songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" that they gained popularity. Later, they sang for Queen Victoria and President Grant and the funds they raised helped to build Jubilee Hall and establish Fisk University. Hopkinson's poignant prose sets the tone for this glimpse into a little-known bit of black history. Using the device of a family storyteller and a child narrator brings immediacy to the tale and a personal connection to the events. Colon's soft watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations are full of gentle greens and browns. The sepia tones add an antique look to the book. This heartwarming presentation is not a historical account, but rather a human look at recorded facts. A fine read-aloud with a good story, uplifting pictures, and fascinating information. Beth Tegart, Oneida City Schools, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
Family history being told to young Beth by her aunt is the framework for this inspiring story of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Beth's great-great-grandmother Ella, who was born into slavery, and who struggled to save enough money to go to Fisk, is based on the real-life Ella Sheppard. Ella didn't save nearly enough, but she went to school anyway, and while there joined the chorus, which went on the road to raise money to repair Fisk's dilapidated buildings. Featuring classical pieces and other songs of white culture, the chorus' concerts drew poorly, but when Ella led the chorus members to sing their own people's spirituals, audiences flocked to hear them. The richly and dramatically told story is well matched by Colon's inspiring artwork. From the cover piece, which features Ella, her eyes closed as she sings, to the final picture, showing Beth and the spirit of Ella behind her, the art, done in Colon's signature scratchboard style infused with gold, has the harmony of the music and the spirit of the Jubilee songs. The book is cataloged as fiction, and the author's note says the story is fiction but based on real events. From the note it appears that most of the events, if not the dialogue and the introduction of the child Beth and her aunt, are factual. An unusual topic translated into a pleasing book. Ilene Cooper

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