Singin’ and Swingin’ & Getting’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou

Virago, 2008, 316 p.

This is the third volume of Angelou’s autobiography. For my reviews of the first two see here and here. In this one her story carries on through her ongoing attempts to keep herself and her son solvent. She even marries (when her mother asked her why she had agreed to it she replied simply, “He asked.”) Eventually, though, her husband gets bored of marriage and leaves.

She gets a job dancing in a bar and hustling drinks, but salves her conscience by letting her customers know the ones she is served are not alcoholic. Her life is transformed by seeing a performance of Porgy and Bess – the first time she had seen black performers of a high standard – and she gets to know the cast when they come to the bar. This eventually leads to her joining the cast on a European tour.

I must admit that until I read this I had not known Angelou came to fame as a singer and dancer rather than a poet.

In Italy she feels wonder to be in Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, and finds Italians welcoming but adds, “I hadn’t been in Europe long enough to know that Europeans often made as clear a distinction between black and white Americans as did the most confirmed Southern bigot. The difference, I was to discover, was that more often than not, blacks were liked, whereas white Americans were not.”

She has a facility with languages, going so far as to learn Serbo-Croat for the visit to Yugoslavia, picking up some Arabic for the trip to Egypt. On the ship taking the company there an encounter with a Greek doctor lets her know that black females from the US were attractive to European men as they represented a chance to become a US citizen by marriage.

Through it all though she is haunted by the fact that she had to leave her son behind in the US. The book ends with her return to the States and taking up family life again.

Pedant’s corner:- Chris-tian (is that hyphen a hangover from a line change in the manuscript?) “My only applause for the first three performances were the desultory claps from Eddie” (My only applause … was the..,) hiccoughing (hiccupping,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, crafts (it was a gondola – a sailing vessel – so the plural is craft.) “From my third-floor (which the French perversely called second-floor) room” (perversely?) Cheops’ (Cheops’s,) “even their approach to the common musical scales are as different as odds and evens” (their approach … is as different,) Smallens’ (Smallens’s,) “an entire cast of Negro singers were nervously rehearsing” (an entire cast was nervously rehearsing.) A commendation, though, for ‘culs-de-sac’.

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