A new American Girl doll has been added to the family, and this one is going to make a lot of little girls very happy. Melody Ellison is the newest girl, and she's a 9-year-old aspiring singer from Motown-era Detroit. Along with her, comes the discussion of civil rights.
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The BeForever doll is from the mid-1960s and brings with her the “great energy, optimism, and change for the African American community,” according to an announcement on the company’s website. She will retail along with a paperback book for $115.
There has been no official date released for when she will be available, but there is going to be an unveil this summer in Detroit, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Spanos.
“We’ll be planning a pretty big campaign and launch when she’s closer to debuting at the end of summer and we do have plans to do some kind of launch event in Detroit for her,” Spanos said. “We’re just starting to meet and talk details about where we would have it, and what it would entail.”
Each American Girl Doll has a series of books as well as digital shorts and a whole storyline in the store. They are also sold with countless accessories and other outfits. The first story for Melody is already on sale on the American Girl Doll website and involves singing an upcoming solo for Youth Day at church. In “No Ordinary Sound” by Denise Lewis Patrick, the young girl must choose a song to sing, and drew upon King’s words to help her make a decision. The story also hints that they will go into the assassination of MLK.
Melody's announcement comes at a time where there is great racial strife in America and people need something to bring them together.
“One thing I should point out is that she’s been in development for about two years,” said Spanos, adding it is typical for the company to spend years creating a new historical doll. “But the timing does seem to sync up.”
The American Girl Dall VP of marketing Julia Prohaska said on CBS This Morning that they will introduce the doll on the company's 30th anniversary this summer.
“I think it’s that we’ve stayed true to our mission and our purpose,” she said of the brand’s lasting influence. “While it would be really easy to call us a doll company, we’ve always seen ourselves as storytellers.”
Melody's story will start in a Detroit church choir, where she finds out that she has an extraordinary power. According to the press release, she will then start singing with her congregation while she gains awareness of the racial inequality that surrounds her and her family. Her “sense of community” grew from her family to envelope her neighborhood and all African Americans, according to the company. The girl was inspired by ther Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to “have a dream of her own: to life her voice for fairness and equality.”
Melody will be the brand's third African-American doll, after the beloved Addy Walker and Cecile Rey.
Prohaska also talked about why it took so long to get another African American character:
“We do approach every character very thoughtfully, so this isn’t something we rush into,” she said. “We’re not looking to address critical demand, we’re looking to tell stories in the most authentic and genuine way that we possible can.”
The brand has been under fire lately for not having as many dolls of color, and has also faced off against dipping sales. Annual sales have fallen by nearly 10% since 2013.
Melody will have her own bed, recording studio, and several different outfits including a blue and yellow houndstooth dress, a blue ribbon headband, blue patent leather shoes, and a "Equal Rights in '63" lapel pin.
The American Girl team worked with a six-person advisory panel to develop the doll. Included on the panel were former Detroit city councilwoman JoAnn Watson, the late civil rights activist Julian Bond, and President and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum Juanita Moore.
They worked to get the girl as close to real life as possible, including the doll's hair.
“I was born in Detroit, greatly influenced by Motown, by the church, by my parents, my grandparents, by the community, which all helped to shape me,” Watson said in a statement released through American Girl. “So, this is a story that touches me in every way.”
Moore, the museum CEO, said that her own upbringing influenced Melody’s character. “I love using history to tell stories and to teach people about life lessons,” she said in a statement. “I grew up during this period and so the stories of Melody are really my stories.”
Among civil rights giants like Martin Luther King Jr., girls like Melody played their own, vital rolls, according to the company.
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“When we learn about the civil rights movement, we learn about a handful of really important people,” senior historian Mark Speltz said. “But the movement was led by average and ordinary Americans, like Melody.”