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Charleston Poet Laureate Pens Children's Book on Black Music

FILE - Marcus Amaker
Courtesy of Marcus Amaker
FILE - Marcus Amaker

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Charleston's perennially creative poet laureate, Marcus Amaker, has a new project just in time for the school year. This one is meant expressly for the next generation of music enthusiasts.

"Black Music Is," a new illustrated book for children ages 8 to 12, represents 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 Charleston's Free Verse Poetry Festival.

Through rhythmic poetry and captivating visuals, "Black Music Is" mines Black music's role in culture around the world. And it does so through the ears of an engaging main character of the feline variety. In a nod to jazz, his name is Bebop the cat.

"I am a music nerd, and I care a lot about what students are learning," Amaker said in a statement. "My hope is that 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-surrealist illustrations create a fanciful backdrop for the rhythmic poem.

Through transporting word and image, "Black Music Is" introduces pre-teen readers to five musical genres, all spun out by Bebop as he plays records by Black musicians. The genres include blues, hip-hop, rock, bluegrass and jazz. Every record takes the cat and readers to a different colorful, sonic world.

Along the way, they learn about leading Black musical artists, among them 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 recipient of a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, has long demonstrated a creative skill set that spans artistic disciplines, among them poetry, music and design, and is well versed in merging art forms to expressive end.

This past year he collaborated on the classical album "Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers," the album release by Chicago baritone Will Liverman and pianist Paul Sanchez that quickly ascended Billboard's classical album charts. For it, 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 Emanuel AME Church massacre.

Durfee, another prominent player in the Charleston arts scene, is a fine artist known for his whimsical depictions of figures contenting with challenging situations. He's also a seasoned hand at children's book illustration.

To celebrate the start of the school year, Amaker is giving free copies of the book to 150 local schools.

Throughout the month of August, Amaker is making local appearances to celebrate the release of the book, including events at 4 p.m. Aug. 28 at itinerant literate and 9:30 a.m. Aug. 29 at Sightsee coffee shop.

Copies of the book can be purchased on Amaker's website,