cover image Listening for America: Inside the Great American Songbook

Listening for America: Inside the Great American Songbook

Rob Kapilow. Liveright, $39.95 (480p) ISBN 978-1-63149-029-3

Composer and music journalist Kapilow (All You Have to Do Is Listen) recounts the 20th-century history of American popular music in lyrical prose. Focusing on the development of 16 songs and their composers—including George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” and Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow”—Kapilow chronicles the evolution of pop music from blues and jazz to Broadway musicals as well as the cultural forces that shaped the music. With the 1927 song “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” Jerome Kern created a distinctively American voice by weaving African-American work songs and spirituals into a 32-bar blues Broadway musical song. Harold Arlen embraced the blues as a rich source of inspiration for “Stormy Weather,” which premiered at the Cotton Club in 1933. Richard Rodgers, with his partner Oscar Hammerstein, wrote such musicals as Carousel that reflected a post-WWII world in which audiences yearned for music to reflect the moral values of society. In “Tonight,” from West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein expressed his hope for a future of racial harmony. Kapilow works in musical notations in each chapter to illustrate the ways that the music itself incorporated various styles as it developed. Kapilow’s melodious writing hums with the vibrant music of American history and American popular culture. (Nov.)