Rachael Price—Get Her Before She’s Gone
Jan20

Rachael Price—Get Her Before She’s Gone

[Update, Jan 22, 2014: As this article from the Wall Street Journal explains, Rachael Price's days as an interpreter of the American Songbook are behind her, or at least on hold. See videos down this page to understand why that's happening and why, in this case, it's good for everyone. Get all of Rachael's music here.  See Lake Street Dive's tour schedule here. Listen to the new album on The Colbert Report website here.]   At 28,...

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Can Seth Save the Songbook?
Feb19

Can Seth Save the Songbook?

Update, Feb. 25. The votes are in, and not just for the Academy Awards, but also for Seth MacFarlane as host of the Oscar telecast. As predicted, MacFarlane simultaneously offended and entertained both critics and commenters to various degrees, but observers seemed surprised with his array of talents as singer and announcer, if not as comic cum host. (See links at bottom.) Several bloggers seemed to have no familiarity with MacFarlane...

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Hard Times for Easy Listeners
Jan16

Hard Times for Easy Listeners

The recent passing of Patti Page has prompted a reexamination of the curious reign of Easy Listening, the music style and radio format that devolved from jazz between the eras dominated by Big Band and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Anyone alive in the 50′s remembers the ubiquity of performers like Lawrence Welk, Liberace, Perry Como, and Dinah Shore, who led the soft parade via hit TV shows, and the 60′s (and even 70′s)...

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You’ve Got a Friend Again
Dec18

You’ve Got a Friend Again

On December 13, the Library of Congress announced that Carole King would be the recipient of the 2013 Gershwin Prize in Popular Song. It seems like only yesterday that I unleashed a rabid tirade directed at the august committee of experts that awards the Gershwin Prize. I was called to action not so much by resentment of the choice for 2012—the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David—as by a need to smirk. I felt the committee had taken...

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Digging for Gems in the Music Mines
Jun14

Digging for Gems in the Music Mines

As someone who now has an iTunes library (my second, the pre-rock one) of almost 3.000 songs, I’m finally starting to develop the mindset you expect to see with dedicated (some say rabid) music collectors. I get both excited and irritated when I run across a song I’ve never heard—or heard of—and want it for my collection. I generally stick to songs or albums that I really like or consider historically important. I’m not a completist,...

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Review: McCartney’s Kisses
Feb28

Review: McCartney’s Kisses

Hugs by Krall, Clapton, & Co.   Of all the pop stars who have issued tribute albums to American pop standards, Paul McCartney is in some ways the least likely to wind his way down the nostalgia lane. In other ways, you might wonder why it took him so long. After all, he was the Beatle who sprinkled the group’s later records with his takes on very old-school arrangements, “When I’m 64″ being probably...

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The Importance of Being Oscar
Feb28

The Importance of Being Oscar

In March, PBS will air a new documentary on one of the seminal figures of 20th-century songwriting, Oscar Hammerstein II. The film is hosted by Glee‘s Matthew Morrison, who was part of the revival cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, the award-winning production that played Lincoln Center from 2008–2010. (Morrison sang “Younger Than Springtime” and “You’ve Got to be Carefully...

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Frank Loesser’s Centennial Roll
Mar26

Frank Loesser’s Centennial Roll

Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opens March 27 with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role. See scenes from the new production here and click on this link to buy tickets. Frank Loesser, like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, was one of the few creators of great American musicals who wrote both music and lyrics. He began his career as a lyricist, but it became clear that his melodies—sometimes...

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An Appreciation: Hugh Martin
Mar14

An Appreciation: Hugh Martin

Update: March 15, 2011: A great, great retrospective of Hugh Martin‘s and Ralph Blane‘s interviews and performances through the years with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross of NPR is here. Into his 90′s Martin’s Southern charm was intact. Another legend of the American Songbook has passed from the scene. Hugh Martin, writer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” died in early March at the age of...

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Frank: A Man and His Videos
Mar11

Frank: A Man and His Videos

Shout Factory, one of the classiest repackagers of classic pop material, has released the Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music TV specials in a new DVD set. These performances are well known to songbook video fans.  Three of the shows represent the Chairman of the Board in the mid sixties with his powers  intact and his collaboration with Nelson Riddle still in peak form. The fourth show is an early-80′s finale to the series with...

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Originals: Rooney and Garrett
Mar03

Originals: Rooney and Garrett

Buy DVD of Words and Music. Two stars of that great (and notoriously inaccurate) American Songbook institution, the Hollywood biopic, were in the news recently. Mickey Rooney, who testified before Congress in March, and Betty Garrett, who died in February, are symbols of longevity (both lived into their 90′s) and reminders of a sad irony for the less-long-lived peers of these former musical stars. Because of modern media like...

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Video: Songbook and Ads—BFFs

Update, Feb. 19: Winner and new champion: Royal Caribbean’s commercial featuring Hal Kemp’s “It’s Winter Again,” with vocals by Skinnay Ennis. See the commercial and hear the full original track (as posted on YouTube) at bottom of this post. Even taking into account a wealth of recordings, DVDs, and concerts of music from the American songbook, these days people probably get their most frequent exposure...

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Nat’s TV Show on iTunes!
Feb25

Nat’s TV Show on iTunes!

The classic Nat ‘King’ Cole television show, which aired in 1956 and 1957, has found new life in a surprising place other than broadcast museums and YouTube—the iTunes store. Of 64 episodes that Cole hosted and on which he performed with some of the greatest names in pop and jazz, fewer than three dozen have survived, and iTunes is making about 30 of them available in the coming weeks—four episodes at a time. The Cole...

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Whither Wainwright?
Feb24

Whither Wainwright?

Update, February 27, 2011: Rufus Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna will be staged by the New York City Opera in spring of 2012, the company announced. Here is the page from Wainwright’s website, with a brief video. Below is a consideration of Wainwright’s 2006 recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, a seminal event in pop-music history. (The comment about Christina Aguilera takes on new meaning...

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Michael Feinstein’s Songbook

Update, 2/7/11: See the NY Times article about Michael Feinstein’s collection and foundation here. If there’s a more dedicated and effective champion of America’s pop music heritage than Michael Feinstein, it’s hard to imagine whom it might be. Celebrated as a performer, historian, and now artistic director for and contributor to an Indiana performing-arts center that houses his collection of music memorabilia,...

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Margaret Whiting (1924–2011)

Margaret Whiting, the popular singer and recording star of the 40′s and 50′s who spent much of her later years performing in clubs and theatrical productions in New York, died on January 11. Whiting, though not a household name, had one of the most appealing tones and impressive musical pedigrees of the 20th century. She raised lots of eyebrows in later years for her marriage (admittedly based on compatibility and...

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