A coming-of-age memoir about a young boy in rural Arkansas who searches for himself and his distant father through soul music
Growing up in rural Arkansas, young Rashod Ollison turned to music to make sense of his life. The dysfunction, sadness, and steely resilience of his family and neighbors was reflected in the R&B songs that played on 45s in smoky rooms.
Steeped in the sounds, the smells, the salty language of rural Arkansas in the 1980s, Soul Serenade is the memoir of a pop music critic whose love for soul music was fostered by his father, Raymond. Drafted into the Vietnam War as a teenager, Raymond returned a changed man, “dead on the inside.” After his parents’ volatile marriage ended in divorce, Rashod was haunted by the memory of his itinerant father and his mama’s long forgotten “sunshine smile.” For six-year-old Rashod, his father’s record collection—the music of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, and others—provided solace, coherence, and escape.
Moving nine times during his childhood, Rashod constantly adjusted to new schools and homes with his two sisters, Dusa and Reagan, and his mother, Dianne. Resilient and tough, while also being distant and punitive, she worked multiple jobs, striving “to make ends wave at each other if they couldn’t meet.” He spent time with his acerbic mother’s mother, Mama Teacake, and her family’s living-out-loud ways, which clashed with his father’s family—religious, discreet, and appropriate—where Rashod gravitated to Big Mama and Paw Paw, his father’s parents.
Becoming aware of his same-sex attraction, Rashod felt further isolated and alone but was encouraged by mentors in the community who fostered his intelligence and talent. He became transformed through discovering the writing of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, and other literary greats, and these books, along with the soulful sounds of the 1970s and 80s, enabled him to thrive in spite of the instability and harshness of his childhood.
In textured and evocative language, and peppered with unexpected humor, Soul Serenade is an original and captivating coming-of-age story set to an original beat.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a rich and heart warming story about childhood survival. You can practically hear the classic R&B soundtrack playing in the background as the author shines a light on the many vivid characters who walked him through his challenging childhood. These real life characters are truthfully revealed in all their human complexity. There are no villains to blame and the author shows that people can be broken and beautiful in the same space. Of particular importance is the tender ache that underscores the relationship between the author and his mostly absent father. As I was reading it I found myself laughing and crying at the same time.
Rashod has always been known to be very candid about his life; however, if and when music comes up in the subject the conversation can go on for hours... This memoir is definitely a page turner & intriguing to say the least!
I loved this book. It caught my attention instantly. Mr. Ollison is an excellent writer and I could not stop reading until I finished it. I loved it so much until I bought two more for friends, It takes you from a child to adulthood with ups and downs with reference to songs he recalled during his growing years. Soul Serenade is a awesome read!
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