cover image As Thousands Cheer

As Thousands Cheer

Laurence Bergreen. Viking Books, $24.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81874-7

The man Jerome Kern said was American music wrote 1500 songs (a list is included), had an unerring insight into popular taste, graduated with meteoric swiftness from singing for pennies in Manhattan's unsavory Lower East Side saloons to Broadway and Hollywood tycoondom, and lived to be 101. In this biography, widely researched and buttressed with a mass of interviews, Bergreen, author of the acclaimed James Agee , brings us the life of a man who, in addition to being an untrained tunesmith of genius--who pounded out such hits as ``Alexander's Ragtime Band,'' ``God Bless America,'' ``This Is the Army'' and ``White Christmas,'' plus many show tunes, with quick-fire regularity--was reclusive, insecure and, toward the end of his life, paranoid. He died in 1989. Berlin's story, richly and skillfully told here, is not only the story of popular American music, studded with such names as Kern, Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Gershwin, Cole Porter and Fred Astaire, but approaches being the story of 20th-century America. Photos. (July)