Struttin’ with Some Barbecue: Lil Hardin Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz

Written by Patricia Hruby Powell
Review by Ann Pedtke

Lil Hardin is born with music in her fingers and a beat in her step. Coming of age in Memphis at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, Lil flouts a society that expects her to take a back seat on the bus, and a family that expects her to guard her reputation and behave like a lady. Lil only wants to do one thing: play jazz. And as her journey takes her from the black-and-tan clubs of Chicago to the premier stages of New York and San Francisco, to a fateful meeting with a shy young trumpet player named Louis Armstrong, Lil proves that nothing can stand in the way of a woman following her passion.

This novel in verse could almost be deemed a novel in jazz, as Powell’s jaunty rhythms tumble up and down each page complete with interludes of scatting. With spot illustrations throughout and a comprehensive timeline, glossary, and historical overview at the back, this slim volume is easily accessible to young readers but also a quick and entertaining read for older students. Powell offers a colorful introduction to jazz music and captures the color and energy–as well as the struggles and prejudices–of the times. While the book stops short of developing the complicated marriage between Lil and Louis Armstrong or addressing the very real violence and segregation they often faced, young readers will walk away with a new view of the era and the upstart music that defined it.