Katheryn Russell-Brown is the author of the new children's picture book biography A Voice Named Aretha, about Aretha Franklin. Russell-Brown also has written the children's book Little Melba and Her Big Trombone. She is the Chesterfield Smith Professor of Law at the University of Florida, and has written several other books, including The Color of Crime.
Q: Why did you decide to write a children's picture book biography of Aretha Franklin?
A: Thankfully Bloomsbury approached me about writing a picture book on Aretha Franklin. As luck would have it, she’s one of my all-time favorite singers. It was a wonderful gift that brought back so many childhood memories of singing Aretha’s songs with my mom.
Q: How did you research her life, and did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: My day job is as a law professor. I also have a Ph.D. in criminal justice/criminology. I love doing research and digging for information.
I was not aware of how well-known and active her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, was in the civil rights movement. Aretha did quite a bit to promote civil rights. In addition to doing benefits to help civil rights groups raise funds, she refused to sing before segregated audiences.
I was surprised to learn that Aretha’s mother died before she turned 10. Aretha performed her first church solo just a few months later. It was a heartbreaking time for little Aretha.
Q: What do you think Laura Freeman's illustrations add to the book?
A: Everything! Her lush illustrations bring Aretha’s life alive.
Laura did so many magical things with the story. She placed little crowns into some of the illustrations of Aretha when she was a young girl. Laura also selected royal colors for Aretha’s clothing to her regal status as the Queen of Soul.
Q: What's your favorite Aretha Franklin song, and why?
A: There are so many, but one that always makes my smile, laugh, and sing out loud is “Dr. Feelgood.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My third children’s picture book, a biography of Shirley Chisholm, will be out in June 2020! My first one was Little Melba and Her Big Trombone in 2014 (Lee and Low).
For those interested in race and criminal justice, the third edition of my book The Color of Crime will also be out later this year.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: A Voice Named Aretha is now available for purchase! Please read it and let me know what you think! @KRussellBrown; RussellBrownK@gmail.com
--Interview with Deborah Kalb