________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 10 . . . .January 20, 2006


Magnificent Women in Music. (The Women’s Hall of Fame Series).

Heather Ball.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2005.
108 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 1-897187-02-5.

Subject Heading:
Women musicians-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Elizabeth Larssen.

**½ /4



It's hard to imagine what all these different women have in common, other than music, but there is one thing: hard work. From the time they realized they wanted to dedicate their lives to music, each one worked very hard to keep her dreams alive. Whether it was something as simple as practicing endless scales on the piano, going to auditions or something as difficult as facing rejection – they all had hard times. But they didn't give up; they kept working.


While it is a difficult task to narrow the field to just 10 influential women in music, Heather Ball makes a bold attempt in Magnificent Women in Music. The book features 10 profiles of female musicians from a wide variety of genres and circumstances, ranging from the 19th century to the present day. Each chapter provides a revealing biography of the artist in question, with a particular emphasis on the struggles she had to overcome in order to rise to prominence in her field.

     The profiles are featured in chronological order based on the birth of the musician and include:

Clara Wieck Schumann – a pianist and composer in her own right, she was also the wife of Romantic composer Robert Schumann.

Dame Ethel Smyth – an English composer and leader in the early women's suffrage movement.

Marian Anderson – a groundbreaking opera singer as the first African-American woman to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Ella Fitzgerald – the incomparable and influential jazz singer known to this day as the First Lady of Jazz.

Buffy Sainte-Marie – the notable First Nations composer, musician, artist and activist.

Joni Mitchell – the legendary Canadian singer and songwriter, best known as a folk singer, she has since branched out into other genres.

k.d. lang – a country western musician who refuses to be pigeonholed, she has also won Grammy awards for pop vocalist.

Chantal Kreviazuk – a pop-rock singer and songwriter, she is also a classically trained pianist.

Measha Brueggergosman – a young Canadian soprano and a rising star in the world of opera.

Vanessa-Mae – a young violinist and nonconformist, she crosses both the classical and pop genres, referring to her music as Violin Techno-acoustic Fusion.

     Although appropriate either for classroom support or recreational reading, it is more likely that this title would be used for the latter purpose. Ball's style is clear and engaging, which makes the profiles easy to read while simultaneously holding a young reader's interest. Illustrations plus many black and white photographs round out the text and lend a visual aspect to each of the biographies which are each approximately eight to ten pages in length. While a substantial portion of the book is devoted to Canadian musicians, the majority of the biographies feature artists from the United States and elsewhere. Judging by Ball's choices, she has gone to great lengths to be as encompassing as possible, including women of African-American, First Nations and Asian heritage. Because each profile is relatively short and accessible, the lack of an index is not overly problematic. The resources section at the back of the book provides solid further reading suggestions, including both print and online resources.

     The musicians found in Ball's Magnificent Women in Music are strong role models as women who have overcome numerous obstacles in order to make their dreams a reality. While certainly not the last word on the subject of great female musicians, this title will inspire its readers to persevere with their own aspirations.


Elizabeth Larssen divides her time between her position at a public library and her studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, where she is pursuing a degree in Library and Information Studies.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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