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
Will Friedwald writes about music for The Wall Street Journal and was the jazz (and cabaret) critic for The New York Sun. He is the author of eight books, including Stardust Melodies: A Biography of Twelve of America’s Most Popular Songs; Jazz Singing: America’s Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond; Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer’s Art; and The Good Life (with Tony Bennett). He has written nearly five hundred liner notes for compact discs, for which he has received eight Grammy nominations. He has also written for Vanity Fair, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, American Heritage, and The New York Times, among other publications.
Praise for A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers…
“Top Five Books of the Year 2010: Friedwald chronicles the Great American Songbook, its creators, and its interpreters—a body of work that stands at the apogee of this nation’s civilization. Quirky, opinionated, shaped by exquisite taste and judgment, this feat of musical and cultural criticism offers an exuberant glimpse into the American character.”
—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.”