From Publishers Weekly
Orgill unleashes verve and rhythmic riffs to capture the mood of the pre-WWII years, when the radio was always on. An ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award winner, Orgill, who has written about music for young readers (Mahalia
), recalls radio programs. big band music, comedians, art, sports, the struggle for racial equality and a nod to the Depression and Europe's gathering storm. To recreate radio, she listened to recordings rather than using transcripts because she needed to hear the voices and the music herself. The format is chronological, covering 48 eventful days framed by Joe Louis's loss to Max Schmeling on June 19, 1936, and the June 22, 1938, rematch, which Louis won. In between, we hear Rudy Vallee introducing Edgar Bergen to radio listeners and Count Basie at Roseland, and Amelia Earhart soaring. Langston Hughes opens his theater, Orson Welles is The Shadow
and FDR watches Disney cartoons. Orgill concludes this rhapsodic time-travel tour guide with a Suggested Listening list, cueing readers to play Basie as a background for her lilting language. (May)
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In the late 1930s, “the radio was always on” in living rooms across America, enthuses Orgill, bringing the sounds of big bands or news of how the nation was faring in hard times. Orgill focuses on the years 1936–38 and the budding career of William “Count” Basie as he rose from playing piano—without benefit of being able to read sheet music—to world-renowned bandleader living the life in New York. Along the way, Basie crosses paths with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Billie Holiday. Although the Harlem Renaissance had ended, there was still the magnetic attraction of so many black folks in one place, so much artistic energy. With a jazzy style that evokes the era, Orgill intersperses Basie’s career progress with glimpses of other figures and issues of the day: black prizefighter Joe Louis in two famous bouts with German Max Schmeling, backed by Hitler; Eleanor Roosevelt’s progressive politics, including support for antilynching legislation; Adam Clayton Powell’s push to boycott businesses that wouldn’t hire blacks. A lively look at the late 1930s. --Vanessa Bush