From the Publisher
"Jazz historian Gourse…combines with illustrator French to produce an attractive and informative overview of female jazz singers. This volume will be popular with middle-grade report writers, but it also belongs in the hands of young people interested in jazz…." —Booklist
Children's Literature - Keri Collins
The fascinating lives of fourteen brilliant musical artists who set the standard for jazz and the blues are profiled in short essays by jazz historian Leslie Gourse. Illustrated with vibrant, powerful portraits by award-winning artist Martin French, the sophisticated ladies of American music burst from the page with stunning force. From Bessie Smith, "the greatest classic blues singer of the 1920s" to modern star Diana Krall, each woman's career is placed in the context of her childhood, family life, early musical influences, how she was discovered, and the artists with whom she worked, hitting the highlights of both the individual singer and the professional world she navigated. Solid biographies that do not gloss over the challenges of poverty, racism, abuse, and addiction, but rather weave them into the narrative as a framework for the soulful performances that made them famous, these snapshots of some of the most beloved musicians of the twentieth century will captivate young jazz lovers and students looking for unusual biographies for school projects. A fabulous introduction to this uniquely American art form, the book also provides a list of recommended books (primarily biographies written for adults) and a discography to lead readers from the lives of the singers to their unforgettable music.
VOYA - Mary E. Heslin
Fourteen "sophisticated ladies"-singers of blues and jazz-are profiled in this fascinating collection of biographical sketches compiled by the late jazz historian Leslie Gourse. From Bessie Smith, whose career years span three decades (1915-1930s) to Diana Krall, a pianist as well as a singer whose career began in 1990 and is fast gaining momentum, these women's names are well-nigh synonymous with their art. In addition to Smith and Krall, Ethel Waters, Mildred Bailey, Mabel Mercer, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Rosemary Clooney, and Cassandra Wilson make appearances here. Each is unique, with a personal style and heart ably reflected in French's striking portraits that introduce the fourteen chapters. Gourse's clear, well-pitched prose powerfully evokes the magic of each singer's style and sound, and a discography of reissued CDs happily puts the actual music within the reader's reach. Gourse writes that many of these ladies grew up in poverty, learned to love music early (often singing in church choirs), were frequently "discovered" in talent shows, and began a dizzy ride to stardom. It took a toll-drugs, alcohol, and dysfunctional relationships. Heartache, sorrow, and hope were all reflected in the music. This book will make a fine addition to public libraries and to school collections with strong arts programs. The sketches are short at just three pages, but they are appealing appetizers and may well prompt teen jazz and blues fans to seek out full-length biographies.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 & Up - This lively collective biography of 14 singers begins in the 1920s with Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters and moves on through current performers Cassandra Wilson and Diana Krall. A vibrant, full-page portrait opens each chapter, depicting the performer with bold vitality, in a style suggestive of a theater poster. Gourse mentions the singers' childhoods and backgrounds and traces the influences on and course of their careers, not shying away from the poverty, health issues, addictions, and chaotic lifestyles experienced by many of them. Her descriptions of their individual styles are particularly apt, whether of Peggy Lee, "rarely singing a note louder than needed" or Anita O'Day, "her dry, husky voice slurring the melody as she handled a variety of songs." The spot-on discography points students to the best-known songs of each artist. Alyn Shipton's Jazz Makers: Vanguards of Sound(Oxford Univ., 2002) offers similar but more comprehensive coverage, including more than 50 biographical sketches of great figures of jazz, both male and female.-Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KSCopyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The late jazz historian covers 14 female jazz singers, from Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters to Cassandra Wilson and Diana Krall, in three-page chapters in this insightful collective biography. Each chapter begins with the "career years" as well as birth and death dates (where applicable), and is faced by a wildly colored portrait-part Fauve, part Franz Kline-that expertly captures the spirit of each singer. The text is clear and straightforward, if occasionally softened (Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" is described as being about the brutal treatment of blacks, rather than using the word lynching). What is a bit startling-and no fault of the author's-is how alike many of these stories are: growing up in grinding poverty, discovering music early, multiple marriages and/or abusive relationships, alcohol and drugs. What Gourse did especially well, though, is focus on the description of each woman's particular vocal sound and approach. She died in 2004, so the text is not quite as up-to-date as it might be-the author cites Susannah McCorkle in the dedication as if she were still alive, for instance. But it's a revealing look at some of the great ladies of jazz. (bibliography, discography) (Collective biography. 10-14)