- Melody Ellison
- Will Ellison
- Frances Ellison
- Yvonne Ellison
- Dwayne Ellison
- Lila Ellison
- Geneva Porter
- Frank Porter
- Diane Harris
- Miss Dorothy
- Charles Porter
- Tish Porter
- Valerie Porter
- Esther Collins
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Meet the Ellisons
One Sunday in May, Melody and her family visit her grandparents after church for dinner, just like they do every Sunday. When her older siblings, Lila and Dwayne, ask her why she's in such a peppy mood, she proudly proclaims that the junior choir director at New Hope Baptist Church, Miss Dorothy, asked her to sing a solo for Youth Day in October. Dwayne, too, is a talented vocalist, with his sights set on becoming a big Motown star. Melody, on the other hand, is a bit nervous at the idea of singing in front of a large crowd.
Melody's grandmother, Big Momma, happily greets the family. Since she's long been good friends with Miss Dorothy, she's already heard the news. She reassures Melody that she'll help her practice during the summer. As they gather around the table for dinner, Melody tells her family that she's expected to choose her own song for Youth Day, but she can't seem to make a decision. Poppa's arrival signals that everyone can eat dinner - and to everyone's surprise, he's brought along Yvonne, Melody's older sister home a week early from Tuskegee University. Big Momma asks Melody to sing grace as the dinner begins.
Chapter Two: Table Talk
Everyone discusses what they've been up to over dinner - Daddy working at the auto factory, Mommy as a schoolteacher. Dwayne says he isn't up to much, which Melody finds strange. Finally, Melody tells Yvonne about the solo. Yvonne tells her that she's sure to put Diane Harris, her bossy classmate almost always gets the solos at church, in her place. Melody worries that she isn't as impressive as Diane, but her family reassures her that she's special in her own way.
Mommy and Poppa ask Yvonne about her time in Tuskegee. Yvonne explains that she spent most of her time partaking in political activism and volunteer work - and in Alabama, it's desperately needed. Poppa explains to Melody that discrimination against black people in the south is more severe than it is up north. He recounts to her when he was a young man with a peanut farm in Alabama. When he'd go to market to sell his crops, he'd only receive half as much money as the neighboring white farmer, even if they had the exact same amount and quality of product. When he protested this unfair treatment, the marketeer attempted to intimidate him. This was what drove him to move his family to Detroit.
Continuing the conversation, Yvonne tells Melody that the best way to fight for equal treatment is through political means such as boycotts and protests. Dwayne says he'll make his statement by getting famous. Daddy insists he must go to college first. Melody attempts to stick up for her brother, but Mommy cuts the argument short. She helps clear the table as Big Momma fetches dessert, while Dwayne plays a song on piano. The phone rings, and when Dwayne answers, he seems to know the person. Pulling her away to a more private room, he explains that his friend Artie was just signed to Motown and is trying to convince his superiors to let Dwayne and some of his friends audition. He makes her promise not to tell anyone else.
Chapter Three: Let Your Light Shine
On Monday morning, Melody and Lila leave home to walk to school together, first having to distract their playful terrier, Bojangles. They meet up with Melody's best friend Sharon at the corner. She brings up the solo, and Melody tells her that she still hasn't picked a song; they aren't even sure whether it has to be a religious song.
Though she doesn't tell anyone Dwayne's secret, she finds herself humming the song he wrote all day. In gym class, Diane nosily asks about the song; she claims it's just something she made up in her head. The gym teacher picks Ellison to form Team One for a game of dodgeball, but Diane tries to order her around anyway. Naturally, she ignores her. Team One wins, though Diane still insists she could've done better.
Melody rushes home alongside Lila, hoping to spend some quality time with Yvonne before she has to return to college. Checking the mail, she sees that they've gotten a letter from Val, their cousin in Alabama. In the letter, Val explains that her family is moving to Detroit once the school year is over. The sisters are surprised by the news, but happy, and decide to celebrate with singing and vanilla wafers.
Chapter Four: Another Home
After dinner, Mommy drives Melody and Lila to choir rehearsal; Yvonne comes along. Melody tells Mommy about Val, but she already heard from Big Momma. She explains they'll be staying with Big Momma and Poppa until they can find their own place. Melody is happy about this news, since it means she can simply walk a few blocks to see Val any time she wants. Mommy reminds them that it'll be hard for her to get used to a new city, and their moving van with their things won't arrive for a few weeks, so they'll have to help her adjust - "make it work," as the family says.
The family arrives at church and sits at the pews, just as the adult choir rehearsal is coming to a close. Melody revels in the feeling of being at her favorite place - a place filled with music and "goodness all around." Finally, the last junior choir rehearsal of the spring begins before they'll have the summer off. Miss Dorothy tells Melody that she and Big Momma will help her practice her solo over the summer. Diane makes a snide remark, and Yvonne looks like she might start an argument, but Miss Dorothy continues, insisting that they all support each other regardless of who the soloist is. They begin rehearsal in earnest as Diane practices her solo for Mother's Day. Melody is intimidated by her confidence, but soon finds peace of mind in the sound of the choir.
On Tuesday afternoon, while paying a visit to her grandparents, Melody gets the idea to host a housewarming party for Val and gets to work on a big welcome sign. Meanwhile, Big Momma is giving her piano lessons in the living room - today, her student happens to be Diane. Her piano playing is clumsy, and Melody is surprised to hear her sounding nervous and insecure for once. Big Momma tells her that the unknown can be scary, but it should be approached with an open mind and with patience. Melody realizes she should approach her solo with the same philosophy; perhaps she and Diane aren't as different as she thought.
Chapter Five: Dances and Dollars
After school on Thursday, Melody lends a hand at Poppa's flower shop. With Mother's Day fast approaching, Poppa suggests she prepare a special floral arrangement for Mommy and Big Momma. He gives her a fresh shipment of flowers to work with freely; she eagerly gets to work.
In the middle of her work, Yvonne comes to the store. They start up a conversation. Yvonne explains that she applied for a job at the local bank, but because she's black, the manager didn't even bother to look at her application. Mommy recently helped Melody start up a savings account with that bank, so she decides she'll close her account and start a new one elsewhere.
Later, two teenage boys come in looking for corsages for an upcoming dance. Though they only have one dollar between them, Yvonne decides to give them a special discount for the occasion. Seeing how well Yvonne performs at the storefront, Poppa strongly considers hiring her.
Melody arrives home and immediately tells her mother she has to close her bank account. The next afternoon, Mommy takes her to the bank, where she closes her account. Mommy praises her for standing up for what she believes in.
Chapter Six: Mother's Day Surprises
Early on Mother's Day morning, Melody wakes up her siblings to help cook breakfast for Mommy. Strangely, Yvonne is already awake and in the bathroom with her night hairscarf still on, but she doesn't hesitate to join them. They make an elaborate breakfast to serve to her in bed, along with a card. They decide to greet her with a song. Mommy accepts the gift with joy.
Just then, they notice Yvonne is gone - back in the bathroom. An hour passes, the rest of the family is ready to go to church, and she still hasn't come out. Finally, she comes downstairs, donning a curly afro as opposed to her and everyone else's normally straightened hair. Yvonne announces she's honoring her African heritage by wearing her natural hair. Melody likes it, but the rest of the family seems unsure about it. When they arrive at church, her hairdo triggers all sorts of gossip among the church ladies.
The time comes for the junior choir performance. Just as the performance ends, Melody spots her cousins Val, Charles, and Tish walking in. The moment she's allowed to step down from the stand, she drags Sharon over to introduce them to each other. Val explains that after she wrote her letter, her parents decided to move early. Melody is ecstatic and insists on riding home with her.
Chapter Seven: A Family Reunion
Chapter Eight: Signs and Songs
Chapter Nine: The Power Inside
Chapter Ten: What Feels Right
Chapter Eleven: The Walk to Freedom
Chapter Twelve: Fireworks
Chapter Thirteen: Practice
Chapter Fourteen: Never Give Up
Chapter Fifteen: One Sunday
Chapter Sixteen: Scary Stuff
Chapter Seventeen: Whispers
Chapter Eighteen: Voices Lifted
- Never Stop Singing: A Melody Classic Volume 2