Reviews for Black bottom saints A novel. [electronic resource] :

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The last testament of an African American showbiz insider is here rendered as an impassioned, richly detailed, and sometimes heartbreaking evocation of black culture in 20th century Detroit and beyond. Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson (1913-1968) was a real-life nightclub impresario, dance studio instructor, and entertainment columnist for the Michigan Chronicle, an African American newspaper based in Detroit. As this book begins, Ziggy is near death and also near completion of what he characterizes as a “book of saints,” a collection of profiles and reminiscences of more than 50 personalities, famous, obscure, and in-between, who “whispered encouragement and clapped…forward” him and generations of those soul-nourished and otherwise entertained in the book’s legendary “Black Bottom” neighborhood during the ascendant and boom years of the city’s auto industry. At its outset, this hybrid of portrait gallery, cultural history, and dramatized biography seems to resemble a grand literary equivalent of a “Youth Colossal,” one of Ziggy’s annual Father’s Day nightclub recitals that one of his saints, the poet Robert Hayden, likens to “a W.E.B. DuBois pageant.” But as the portraits accumulate and grow in depth and breadth, they make up an absorbing and poignant account of a glittering age in the life of a once-thriving metropolis. The portraits are punctuated by celebratory “libations,” some of which have so much hard liquor and sugar cubes as to make one fear diabetic shock. Included among Ziggy’s saints: heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis; funeral parlor tycoon and political leader Charles Diggs Sr.; NFL Hall of Fame defensive back Dick “Night Train” Lane, who had “come up all kinds of hard, but [whose] ambition was green and vibrant”; UAW negotiator Marc Stepp; actress Tallulah Bankhead (whom Ziggy describes as “the lady who knows no color”); theater director Lloyd George Richards; dancer Lucille Ellis; Sammy Davis Jr., who pops up throughout the narrative, characterized by Ziggy at one point as a “little genius”; Maxine Powell, who taught Motown Records’ stable of emerging stars how to comport themselves on- and offstage; and, at the tail end, Ziggy himself, whose narrative voice is seasoned with such idiosyncrasies as referring to black folks in general as “sepians” and characterizing black factory workers who made up his readers and audiences as “breadwinners.” This last tribute is likely the work of the unofficial collaborator whose own story and embellishments enhance this tapestry. She is referred to throughout as “Colored Girl,” but one suspects she is a surrogate for Randall, a Detroit native whose experiences writing country music likely account for the lyricism, pathos, and down-home humor in her narrative. If Randall’s book at times gets carried away with its emotions, it also compels you to ride along with your own. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.