- Melody Ellison
- Geneva Porter
- Frank Porter
- Yvonne Ellison
- Dwayne Ellison
- Lila Ellison
- Frances Ellison
- Will Ellison
- Miss Dorothy
- Valerie Porter
- Tish Porter
- Charles Porter
Only in Music in My Heart
- Protagonist: A girl who travels back in time after performing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" on a piano or keyboard. She takes piano lessons, though she's more excited about learning how to play guitars at school. Her favorite singer is Zoey Gatz. She also likes to read and enjoys spending time in her mom's office, reading in a corner while her mom works.
- Mom: Protagonist's mom. She's the principal at her daughter's school and often tells the protagonist news about the school before the other students find out. Her home office has a beanbag chair and a fuzzy blanket in a corner for the protagonist, who likes to read there while she works.
- Dad: Protagonist's dad. He's a politician and is trying to get reelected into Congress. The protagonist knows very little about what he does, but understands he's passionate for helping others and improving their community. He often stays up late working on speeches and is gone a lot at night and on the weekends.
- Annika: Protagonist's best friend. She lives two houses down and is considered by the protagonist to have a good singing voice.
- Ms. Stricker: Protagonist's and Annika's piano teacher. The girls nickname her "Ms. Strict".
Opening and Potential Plot Events
The protagonist is practicing her piano recital piece, thinking about the guitar lessons she'll be taking at her school in the fall. She hears her piano teacher, Ms. Stricker, clapping and asks if she had made a mistake, Ms. Stricker insists that she hasn't and explains her piano playing lacked passion. The protagonist is reminded by her dad and, after considering his passion for helping others and improving their community, questions what she is passionate for. Ms. Stricker considers assigning another song for the recital and hands the protagonist the sheet music for "Lift Every Voice and Sing". As the protagonist beings to play and sings the first verse, she's reminded of the gospel songs she and her grandma sang at church and is saddened, as her grandma died a few months prior. As she reaches the second verse, she begins to hear other voices singing too.
After finishing the song, the protagonist is mystically transported to Melody's time and location, in the basement of New Hope Baptist Church. She observes a bulletin board above the piano and notices a poster for the Detroit Walk to Freedom. Melody (whom she doesn't know at first) approaches the protagonist, compliments her piano playing, and tells her about her participation in the Walk to Freedom. She introduces herself and asks the protagonist to play the song again for her grandmother. The protagonist agrees and, when Melody leaves, begins to re-play the song on the piano. When she finishes the final notes of the song, she finds herself in her own time at the same moment she left. Ms. Stricker steps into the room and compliments the protagonist on her piano playing, saying it was beautiful. The protagonist beams and thinks about Melody, itching to play the song again to return to 1964. Shen then decides to wait and takes the sheet music with her, as Ms. Stricker suggests she polish her playing.
In the car Mom informs the protagonist that her school will be having some changes because of how tight the budge is, and that the music programs may have to be scaled back due to a shortage of musical instruments. She then informs her that Dad won't be home, and the protagonist thinks about her dad's efforts of being reelected into Congress. She also declines her mom's offer of spending time in her office, insisting she'd rather practice playing the piano. When they get home the protagonist walks to her bedroom and hurries to her keyboard. She sees a picture of Annika and, considering that she informs her on everything, sends her a text message saying "You won't believe what happened today". She then looks out the window and sees her new neighbor playing outside with her brother. The protagonist quickly ducks, as not wanting the girl to see her, and begins to play "Lift Every Voice and Sing" on her keyboard without the sheet music. She's transported back to 1964 and Melody introduces her to Geneva Porter, who compliments her piano playing.
After this opening, events vary according to choices made.
- The protagonist and Melody accompany Mrs. Porter and Miss Dorothy to a gospel performance. After learning the performance hall is to be torn down, the girls can either join a demonstration or hold a fundraiser at New Hope Baptist Church. Online endings include attending the Emancipation Celebration and the girls performing a song onstage.
- Dwayne escorts the protagonist and Melody to the Hitsville U.S.A. recording studio, where they sing back-up for The Three Ravens.
- The protagonist and Melody visit a record shop to assist Dwayne with recording a solo song; the protagonist offers to play keyboard and Melody plays a tambourine as Dwayne sings.
- The protagonist and Melody accompany Dwayne as he runs errands for Mr. Hartman; Dwayne gets pulled over and the girls retrieve Mr. Hartman to claim ownership of his car.
- The protagonist and Melody attend a Student Walks to Freedom Club meeting and can assist with an upcoming project by either making posters or stuffing envelopes.
- The protagonist, Melody and Yvonne visit Sam's Soda Shop, where they're initially denied service but stay their ground until they're seated and receive their orders.
- The protagonist, Melody and Lila visit a bookmobile; when the protagonist learns the bookmobile lacks books written by African American authors, she instructs the other kids in line to request such books to urge a librarian to start a petition.
- The protagonist and Melody visit Val's house; the girls play on Val's swing set and invite a girl next door to play with them.
Regardless of the ending that is arrived at, the protagonist eventually returns to her own time by "Lift Every Voice and Sing" on various pianos, and returns at the exact moment she left. She makes proper goodbyes to Melody and generally says she has to go back to her family. The protagonist returns with a new-found perspective of her life. This often includes understanding the importance of her father's job, being able to find her own passions, the importance of speaking up against injustices and being more open-minded about making new friends.
- In that book, Yvonne has a broken wrist, but departs before the end of the book. She is coming back from the Mississippi Summer Project at the start of the Journey Book.
- While not explicitly stated to be African-American, it is most likely she is or passes as such. Clues towards this include: her knowledge of gospel music in her church; her and her late grandmother's singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (known as the Black American National Anthem); being mistaken for a member of a visiting youth choir (it is unlikely a dominantly white or other raced church would come to sing at a black church in the 1960s); and the fact that during racial scenarios in the book she is not singled out whereas a white or other-raced child spending significant amounts of time with black people would have been controversial in the 1960s and been made note of.