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THAT VOICE

IN SEARCH OF ANN DRUMMOND-GRANT, THE SINGER WHO SHAPED MY LIFE

A captivating coming-of-age saga about life trying to imitate art, with poignantly mixed results.

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An awkward girl’s inspiration—the titular deceased Gilbert and Sullivan diva—is hymned in Menter’s piquant memoir.

The author, a journalist and poet, looks back on her experiences growing up in Syracuse, New York, in the 1960s, when she despaired of her chubby, cross-eyed physicality, felt alienated from her cold mother, and hid her shyness beneath a snarky exterior. She discovered a new world when her father gave her old recordings of the D’Oyly Carte troupe, leading interpreters of the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Menter was entranced by Gilbert’s riotous lyrics, Sullivan’s exuberant music, and their tuneful sendups of Victorian England’s stuffed shirts and preening poseurs—and especially by the company’s reigning contralto, Ann Drummond-Grant, who specialized in playing pompous battle-axes while infusing pathos into their vanity and silliness. The author sent off fan letters and was crushed to learn that Drummond-Grant had been dead for nine years, but she carried on with her resolve to become a singer like her idol—and to perhaps join D’Oyly Carte herself. What followed was a yearning, frustrating musical odyssey as Menter studied voice and piano, first in private lessons and then at Syracuse University and the Manhattan School of Music. Saddled with a lovely but weak and unbalanced voice, she struggled with a succession of teachers who never quite managed to instill the basics of technique and breathing control; her piano studies and a foray into acting classes also left her tantalizingly short of proficiency. Entwined with the author’s reminiscences is her biographical sketch of Drummond-Grant, also a late bloomer, who joined D’Oyly Carte in 1933 at the age of 28, quickly climbed from the chorus to principal roles, and was then kicked out of the company after she began an affair with the married musical director—only to return as his wife in 1951.

In part, the author’s narrative explores a young woman’s search for self-definition through passionate relationships with mentors and mother figures (“That was my life story: falling madly in love with someone or something and being drawn or driven by it”), the most prominent being the titular muse, who existed only on vinyl for her. It’s also a hilariously demystified look at the singer’s craft, seen from the most undignified of perspectives: “As I blew my nose (and blew, and blew), I reflexively pulled my diaphragm in. Lo!…At long last I made the physical connection: the diaphragm pushes the breath, and the breath pushes the snot…and the sound!” The author’s self-portrait is intimate and revealing, cleareyed in its depictions of her disappointments and failings and suffused with wry humor: “My go-to romantic strategy was to aim a stream of madcap brilliance at someone who wasn’t paying attention.” At the book’s heart is a colorful profile of Drummond-Grant written in evocative prose that conveys her talent (“The voice was thrilling: rich and clear, with a quick vibrato”) and personality (her laughter in a taped interview is “slow and doleful, like dark water lapping the side of a boat”). Gilbert and Sullivan fans—and anyone who’s reached for an improbable dream—will enjoy Menter’s journey.

A captivating coming-of-age saga about life trying to imitate art, with poignantly mixed results.

Pub Date: June 18, 2024

ISBN: 9781647426620

Page Count: 272

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2024

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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LOVE, PAMELA

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

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The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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