Book review: Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl, by Rashod Ollison

Ollison Soul SerenadeOllison, Rashod. Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl. Beacon Press. 2016. $25.95. 230p. HC. ISBN 978-0-8070-5752-0.

Rashod Ollison is the music columnist for the Virginian Pilot, my local newspaper. When the announcement in the paper of his forthcoming autobiography revealed that he was gay, I wanted to read the book.

Little Rock, Hot Springs, and Malvern, Arkansas, are the backdrop for three generations of Ollison’s family. They provide a large cast of memorable characters that Ollison mostly treats with an understanding of their flaws and difficult lives. The dialog he remembers or recreates to delineate each relative is often raw and painful. His mother’s determination, working two jobs to give her children a middle class environment, explains for her son why there was so little attention and affection to spare. His father moved out when the author was six, leaving behind his record collection. As a lonely child, Rashod played the music that had been popular before he was born. It became the soundtrack for his life growing up.

By the time he entered school, Dusa, his older half-sister, was telling him to stop acting like a girl. As a nine-year-old on the playground, he learned the word faggot: “All I knew was something—a defect that Mama, Dusa, and those nappy-headed boys on the playground could clearly see—made me feel lonely and deeply disliked.” Rashod retreated into school work and found a gift for writing that brought him respect. Meanwhile, he went from longing for his father to bitterness over being emotionally abandoned. His narrative continues through adolescence and high school, ending with his father’s funeral.

Ollison’s memoir occupies the intersection of being young, gay, gifted, and black. At the same time, this is an intensely personal story that should appeal to adult readers looking for a well-written and honest self-examination.

Carolyn Caywood, retired from Virginia Beach Public Library

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