From Publishers Weekly
Zinsser's enthusiasm for his subject emanates from the pages of this study of "the golden age of American popular song," framed by "the musical Show Boat in 1927... until the rise of rock in the mid-1960s." "My book doesn't claim to be definitive," writes Zinsser, theater and movie critic for The New York Herald Tribune during the '50s, professional piano player and author of 16 books, including On Writing Well and Mitchell & Ruff; "it's just one man's tour of his collection, as idiosyncratic as another man's collection of stamps or coins or butterflies." Zinsser uses the biographies of major songwriting talents as centerpieces for his in-depth portrayal of the days when "every home seemed to have a piano and at least one member of the family who could play it." He includes chapters on sheet music, songs from WWII and the direct impact that vocalists, Hollywood stars (Fred Astaire) and movies (The Wizard of Oz) had on popular composers. Moving from the "agreeable world" of Hoagy Carmichael to "hit machines" like Harry Warren, to the ambitious works of Gershwin, Zinsser demonstrates their centrality in the sphere of American music. He discusses not only harmony, intervals and syncopation, but he also includes the humble stories of talents who strove for, stumbled upon or seized prominence. Despite Zinsser's personal enthusiasm, the work never veers into sentimentality. "My book is a celebration, not a funeral, and one of the miracles I'm celebrating is how powerfully the songs have become lodged in the nation's collective memory," Zinsser explains. His effort is worthy of his ambition. B & w photographs and illustrations. (Jan.)
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From Library Journal
Zinsser (On Writing Well, Mitchell & Ruff) profiles songwriters dating from the early years of the 20th century to the present, focusing on theater, film, and popular song composers and lyricists, as well as those singers associated with their work. In an endearing, personal style, which leaves the reader humming the tunes or wanting to hear the featured performers, he weaves short sketches of seminal figures such as Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, and many others. The reproductions of sheet-music covers and photographs of the artists at different stages of their lives are especially valuable and fascinating, and the author's annotations on recommended readings are very helpful. However, the "Songs by Category," while interesting, would have been more useful with page number references. Mostly reliable and up-to-the-minute, including events occurring in the summer of 2000, Zinsser's work is recommended for larger music collections as a pleasurable diversion from routine biographical sources. Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
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