WHITE CHRISTMAS: The Story of an American Song

Jody Rosen, Author . Scribner $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7432-1875-7

With its references to glistening treetops and sleigh bells in the snow, Irving Berlin's dreamy ballad has become a monstrously popular classic. Since its 1942 debut (softly crooned by Bing Crosby), artists from Doris Day to the Flaming Lips have recorded their own versions of the tune; it's become the world's most frequently recorded song. Music journalist Rosen offers a perfect, compact book chronicling the song's birth, initial reception and rise to popularity, simultaneously giving readers an understanding of the iconic Berlin and 1940s American popular culture. The prolific songwriter couldn't read or write music, yet composed continually, using his "musical secretary," Helmy Kresa, to pen the songs he wrote on the piano. Berlin introduced "White Christmas" to Kresa on January 8, 1940. Rosen explains the song's little-known introduction (which sets the narrator in California, longing for cold weather); offers interpretations of the song's escapist appeal (like so many popular songs of its time, it doesn't acknowledge the Great Depression's hardships); and comments on the prevalence of Jewish composers in that era's popular song business (Berlin himself was an Eastern European Jewish immigrant). The unsentimental writing and thorough research—Rosen draws on such sources as Berlin's family and music scholars—make this a delightful testament to the power of one simple song. Agent, Bill Clegg. (Nov.)

Forecast:With HarperCollins's forthcoming book about the song "Amazing Grace" (reviewed below) and 2000's Strange Fruit, about the tune Billie Holiday made famous, there seems to be a burgeoning category on the rise: American song biographies. They're a terrific lens through which to view an era, and Rosen's book should be especially popular, given its holiday angle.

Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 09/01/2003
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-7435-4970-7
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-7432-1876-4
Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-4391-3124-4
Hardcover - 224 pages - 978-1-84115-632-3
Compact Disc - 978-0-7435-0939-8
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7435-0938-1
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