Study Guide

Singing in the Comeback Choir

by Bebe Moore

Singing in the Comeback Choir Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Singing in the Comeback Choir is a multilayered novel that touches on personal and social problems within both changing neighborhoods and newly established communities. Maxine McCoy, once a teacher in South Philadelphia, has become a television producer in the fast-paced, competitive world of the Los Angeles entertainment industry. At the novel’s outset, her life is complicated by several factors: Her popular production, The Ted Graham Show, has lost some of its viewers, and ratings week is approaching. She is newly pregnant but is still suffering the loss of a stillborn baby and her husband Satchel’s subsequent brief affair. Finally, her seventy-eight-year-old grandmother, Lindy, has suffered a stroke and needs immediate help. Maxine must either spend a few weeks away from her temperamental star, whose success seems dependent on her calming influence, or ignore the plight of the woman who had raised her. At the risk of her job and future, Maxine returns to her childhood home and her grandmother.

In her youth, Lindy had been a much-beloved singer. Her life touring on the road became unsustainable, however, owing to a thieving manager, straitened circumstances, and her need to care for Maxine. Lindy responded by turning her home into her concert stage, filling it with singing and music. The neighborhood was still safely lower middle class when Maxine left for her new career, but she returns to a startlingly different situation. The area has become unsafe at night, and a brothel flourishes across the street. Young men roam the streets looking for trouble or drugs, the lawns have run to ruin, and graffiti is scrawled on every surface. Many old neighbors remain, but they are dispirited, worried about their children’s futures—and even their survival. Lindy’s home is now silent, barren, and joyless. She no longer sings, her voice having atrophied, and her days are filled with sleep, cigarettes, and bourbon. A small fire caused by an untended cigarette has made it possible that Lindy will be moved to a care facility, but she is still strong enough vehemently to protest such a move.

Though at first overwhelmed by the blight and the run-down lives and spirits she witnesses, Maxine soon determines to do all she can to change things. She sets about to restore pride in the neighborhood and to convince Lindy to stop her self-destructive behavior and re-embrace her music.

Singing in the Comeback Choir Bibliography (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

“Bebe Moore Campbell.” In Notable Black American Women. Book 3. New York: Gale Group, 2002. Provides a comprehensive listing of further readings on the author and her works, as well as an impressive overview of the author’s career and personal life. Includes a somewhat critical review of Singing in the Comeback Choir by Patricia Elam, a Washington Post critic, who says that the book failed to move her in the way earlier works by Campbell had moved her.

Campbell, Bebe Moore. “I Hope I Can Teach a Little Bit.” Interview with Bebe Moore Campbell by Martha Satz. Southwest Review 81 (Spring, 1996): 195-213. This interview took place in November of 1995, and it conveys Campbell’s feelings about the importance of keeping in touch with youngsters in the old neighborhoods and offering them the services of a teacher, counselor, and mentor.

Lumpkins, Barbranda. “Comeback Choir Sings Simple Truths.” Review of Singing in the Comeback Choir, by Bebe Moore Campbell. USA Today, February 26, 1998. Outlines the plot of Campbell’s novel and provides critical commentary that reflects the general critical response to the work. Effectively captures the theme and the message that Campbell hopes to convey.