From Publishers Weekly
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—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic
“A perfect holiday gift . . . An authoritative, comprehensive and oft-amusing guidebook that leads readers through the lives and recordings of hundreds of singers, from Louis Armstrong to Hank Williams.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Incisive and useful . . . In this mammoth volume, jazz critic Will Friedwald does for jazz and pop vocalists what David Thomson has done so brilliantly in his New Biographical Dictionary of Film. . . . The author also acts as a consumer guide, steering the reader toward particular songs or albums. . . . Vastly entertaining.”
—Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post
“In this passionately opinionated encyclopedia of the old-school virtuosos of the American songbook, music writer Friedwald celebrates 200-odd performers of jazz and pop standards, from the mid-20th-century titans to latter-day acolytes, with a raft of unjustly obscure singers in between. . . . [Friedwald] accords each a substantial career retrospective, selected discography and wonderfully pithy interpretive essay. His tastes are wide-ranging and idiosyncratic . . . However unconventional, his judgments are usually spot-on . . . Friedwald’s exuberant medley is that rarest of things: music criticism that actually makes you sit up and listen.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A fun reference book to dive into, get lost in—and use to add more songs and singers to your collection. . . . When it comes to the Great American Songbook, Will Friedwald is the keeper of the flame. He’s written some of the best books on popular song of the past quarter-century, from his engaging Jazz Singing to . . . his Sinatra! The Song is You [which] is one of the best studies of a singer’s craft ever written. With A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, Friedwald gave himself a daunting task: put together essays on every singer he can who made a career singing those great songs. ‘Every’ is a lot, but Friedwald doesn’t miss too many, from the early 20th century to the cabaret singers of the post-swing revival. The essays—more than 200 in all, including pieces on multiple artists—are part biography, part career overview, focusing on the singers’ highs and lows while tossing in bits of fun trivia.”
—Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“I think Will Friedwald’s Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers will be of real interest to anyone who cares about the music.”
—Hugh Hefner, editor-in-chief of Playboy
“If there were such a volume as the Great American Songbook, this book should be right next to it on your shelf. It is truly the definitive work on those who sing and swing those songs.”
—Alan Bergman, Grammy and Academy Award–winning songwriter
“Will Friedwald has created an instant classic reference tome with his Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, the wealth of information and the breadth of knowledge being quite staggering. It is written without academic posturing but with wit and warmth and accessibility, covering in fascinating detail the careers of everyone from Jolson and Sinatra, of course, to Lee Wiley, Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich; from Armstrong to Doris Day, and everyone in between. It will surely be considered an essential text.”
“This extensive work is essential and comprehensive. In opinionated, sometimes witty essays, Friedwald sorts out the lives and careers of more than three hundred singers, some of the greatest vocalists of the twentieth century including such giants as Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Bessie Smith. There are also dozens of unexpected inclusions. For example, Martha Raye merits almost seven pages and her entry helps dusts off her historical reputation as not just a zany character but rather an incredibly gifted and complex artist. . . . Friedwald spent ten years researching this magisterial reference book and it is certain to delight and inform anyone with a passion for the iconic music of America.”
—Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen
“The closest thing we have to a standard text on American pop from the first half of the twentieth century . . . Friedwald is a deeply attentive and emotionally attuned listener. His descriptions of performances are so precise and detailed that Stardust Melodies could serve as a primer for how to listen to prerock music.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Excellent . . . [With] good humor and lively anecdotes, Friedwald brings an open mind to the kaleidoscope of musical stylings that these songs have been treated (or subjected) to.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Friedwald’s writing, both erudite and funny, complements the standards he so clearly loves, like a melody set to the perfect lyric.”
—Entertainment Weekly, “A”
“Informative and witty . . . So full of good stuff that I kept being distracted and forgetting what I was looking for.”
Sinatra! The Song Is You
“The most important book published about Frank Sinatra to date.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Indispensable . . . A man with unexcelled knowledge of American popular song, Friedwald looks intensively at [Sinatra’s] career . . . Sinatra! hits a welcome high note . . . Excellent.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Blithe, respectful, snappy, and smart, Friedwald catches the creative fire of the singer . . . This is the best book ever written about Sinatra’s deepest secret: his craft.”
Will Friedwald’s illuminating, opinionated essays—provocative, funny, and personal—on the lives and careers of more than three hundred singers anatomize the work of the most important jazz and popular performers of the twentieth century. From giants like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland to lesser-known artists like Jeri Southern and Joe Mooney, they have created a body of work that continues to please and inspire. Here is the most extensive biographical and critical survey of these singers ever written, as well as an essential guide to the Great American Songbook and those who shaped the way it has been sung.
The music crosses from jazz to pop and back again, from the songs of Irving Berlin and W. C. Handy through Stephen Sondheim and beyond, bringing together straightforward jazz and pop singers (Billie Holiday, Perry Como); hybrid artists who moved among genres and combined them (Peggy Lee, Mel Tormé); the leading men and women of Broadway and Hollywood (Ethel Merman, Al Jolson); yesterday’s vaudeville and radio stars (Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor); and today’s cabaret artists and hit-makers (Diana Krall, Michael Bublé). Friedwald has also written extended pieces on the most representative artists of five significant genres that lie outside the songbook: Bessie Smith (blues), Mahalia Jackson (gospel), Hank Williams (country and western), Elvis Presley (rock ’n’ roll), and Bob Dylan (folk-rock).
Friedwald reconsiders the personal stories and professional successes and failures of all these artists, their songs, and their performances, appraising both the singers and their music by balancing his opinions with those of fellow musicians, listeners, and critics.
This magisterial reference book—ten years in the making—will delight and inform anyone with a passion for the iconic music of America, which continues to resonate throughout our popular culture.
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
From Rosemary Clooney (1928–2002)
Both the Westbury and the Honolulu concerts were unbelievably moving, the first one especially so. A lot of us were aware, even if we didn’t want to admit it, that this was going to be a farewell appearance, and we were also on edge because this was very shortly after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Rosemary had been ending all her concerts that fall with “God Bless America,” and, as she told me afterward, she had been inviting the audience to join her for the second chorus. In New York, however, no one waited; the crowd started singing along with her from the first note. Rosemary was visibly moved, as was everyone else. She obviously was thinking about that when she got to the conclusion of the Honolulu show. If you thought her version of “Brazil” was heartbreaking, you should hear what she does with “God Bless America”; if anything, it’s even more amazing in that she reminds us that Irving Berlin’s number is not an institution, not an anthem, but a song, to be interpreted and sung from the heart like any other. You feel, as always, as if she’s singing about something that means everything to her. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a country, a child, a lover, or sweet Kentucky ham.
From Bing Crosby (1903–1977)
Another later album, Songs I Wish I Had Sung (The First Time Around), was essentially Crosby’s way of acknowledging that he wasn’t the only male singer to create hits and standards. Longtime Decca associate Milt Gabler came up with the idea, and also that of using musical director Jack Pleis. Crosby offers “Thanks for the Memory” in recognition of the singing skills of Bob Hope and, ignoring the song’s transformation into a Madison Avenue jingle, restores the bittersweet feeling Hope had projected when he introduced it in his movie debut, The Big Broadcast of 1938. In lines like “no frills, no fuss—hooray for us,” Crosby shows that he fully appreciates the song’s melancholy ironies. However, in retrospect the album makes it plain that Crosby introduced more great songs into the cultural bloodstream than everybody else put together.
From Vic Damone (born 1928)
In one major respect, Damone, even more than Sinatra, was a perfect singer for the early postwar period: He was part of an era; Sinatra created one. Damone was much more likely to sing Italian songs, both traditional and contemporary, than Francis Albert, and Mercury producers Berle Adams and Mitch Miller gave him quite a few: “You’re Breaking My Heart,” “Just Say I Love Her,” “Here in My Heart,” “To Love You.” The late forties and fifties were the international years of pop, in which songs from all over the globe landed on American charts. . . . In the second half of the nineties Damone reentered our consciousness on a significantly higher level. After a protracted absence from New York, he was suddenly appearing regularly at Carnegie Hall (both in various all-star tribute concerts and in a solo show) and at Rainbow and Stars. He was singing extraordinarily well, and not just for a man on the cusp of seventy—smooth and clear with a voice that had deepened, perhaps, but hadn’t exactly darkened. The delivery was smooth and the pitch was effortless, as proved by a package of thirty standards that he recorded in 1996.
From Bobby Darin (1936–1973)
Darin’s ongoing popularity might have surprised even him. In the twenty-first century, he is a disproportionately large influence, especially on such younger Italo-styled boy crooners as Tony DeSare, Peter Cincotti, and especially Michael Bublé. “Bobby didn’t have Nat King Cole’s voice and he didn’t have James Dean’s looks,” as Darin’s longtime colleague Nick Venet put it, “but he would step out onstage and become everything you ever thought was a star.”
From Doris Day (born 1922)
On her first commercial session, Day and Brown chart the course of what would be one of the great careers in the recording industry, starting with “Dig It,” a jive tune in which her vocal is introduced by the band chanting “Dig it, Doris!” on the vocal chorus, and dig it she does, showing herself already the equal of Miller’s Marion Hutton (who also recorded it), Tommy Dorsey’s Connie Haines, or the other Dorsey’s Helen O’Connell, or any other perky canary who specialized in rhythm numbers. And she gets a groove going in Cole Porter’s “Let’s Be Buddies.” . . . Doris Day was an instant success in pictures: It’s no exaggeration to say the public took one look (and one listen) and she could do no wrong. Not just beautiful, not just a great singer, she possessed that kind of charisma that could be choreographed but not created. Day launched a film career that was, ultimately, more rewarding for us than it was for her. She remained one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies for the next two decades, spending roughly ten years as the girl next door and an additional ten as the girl next door who might just sleep with you if you had a name like Rock or Cary and had some kind of a gimmick to trick her into it. . . . In spite of Melcher’s machinations, Doris Day was probably the biggest female multimedia hit maker of the fifties, steadily turning out chart singles and top-grossing pictures. Dinah Shore, who had been around longer, had a bigger broadcasting career, but couldn’t touch Day in pictures; Judy Garland had a shorter but more spectacular film career, but wasn’t utilized as much on recordings and radio as she should have been. Paramount tried to make Rosemary Clooney the next Doris Day, but she never caught on in pictures. Day was the sole female singer to come from the band world and make the transition to solo stardom and pictures.
From Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996)
I already knew that Fitzgerald was the greatest female singer who ever sang the American songbook. Her voice was pure silk, it was perfume, it was a frothy pink cloud, it was champagne, it was the stuff that dreams are made of; her intonation and her time were unimaginably astonishing. Above all, she knew how to sing a melody: Even when she played with one, she never screwed around with it; even when she was scatting for chorus after chorus, she never made herself more important than the song. Like Sinatra, she was the beginning and the end, setting an impossibly high bar for jazz singers and female singers in particular that could never be exceeded or even matched.
From Judy Garland (1922–1969)
Then, in 1939, Garland not only became an emerging star but shot to the upper pantheon of the immortals with The Wizard of Oz, not only the major vehicle of her career, but quite possibly the greatest of all movie musicals (and in my opinion the greatest film ever made, thank you very much). With “Over the Rainbow,” Garland took the art of yearning to new levels. The notes themselves, with their operatic octave leap in the first interval, symbolized a reaching out, an optimistic striving for a greater good. Surrounding the seventeen-year-old trouper with three of the world’s finest song and dance character men and a top score by lifelong friend Harold Arlen, Oz showed the world how good the movie musical could be. One of the tragedies of Garland’s life is that she never surpassed Oz; still, after this she was the preeminent leading lady of the Hollywood musical. No woman in Hollywood—not Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, or Betty Hutton—could possibly compete with her.
From Dick Haymes (1916–1980)
It’s Haymes’s first two long-playing projects, produced by Capitol Records in 1955 and 1957 (Moondreams and Rain or Shine), that offer what is easily the finest singing of his entire career. When Capitol gave him a shot, he was offered his choice of musical director, and while he could have gone with such established greats as Nelson Riddle (who had actually directed a few of his final Decca dates in 1952), Billy May, or longtime collaborator Gordon Jenkins, he instead recruited a young Canadian conductor named Ian Bernard. Featuring a small string section and prominent clarinet solos from the raspy-toned Jimmy Giuffre, these two sets offer Haymes at his deepest, singing ballads at a gut level reminiscent of Sinatra on In the Wee Small Hours and the best of Billie Holiday. Even though he flies at an altitude very close to Sinatra here, I don’t think that Haymes has ever sounded more like himself.
From Billie Holiday (1915–1959)
As Holiday ascended the ladder, and was given the star treatment more and more, something was gained as well as lost. If the 1940–42 sessions don’t have the loose spontaneity of the earlier music, the compensating factor is that Holiday is given a better class of song. In this period, standards tested by time (even by then) are the rule and ephemeral new tunes are the exception. The songs she does here are almost all classics: “I Cover the Waterfront,” “Love Me or Leave Me” (both with the verses), and even “Gloomy Sunday,” the aforementioned Hungarian suicide song that had infiltrated the Englishspeaking world (via Paul Robeson and Hal Kemp) five years earlier. The 1936 “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” is an unexpected choice; it’s a rather old-fashioned song that sounds more like 1916. Fats Waller made a terrific record of it swinging and gagging it up (exactly what the s...