WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'S LATER YEARS

The second half of the trumpeter-singer’s career receives a thorough but uneven chronicle.

The story told by Armstrong blogger and jazz pianist Riccardi will be familiar to readers of Terry Teachout’s graceful 2009 bio Pops. Riccardi takes up the musician’s career in 1947, when he formed his long-running combo the All Stars. The author styles his work as a defense of latter-day Satchmo. Armstrong was criticized for vaudevillian tendencies and sticking to a stale repertoire while leaning on pop material in later years, and reviled for his ever-ingratiating onstage demeanor, which was viewed as “handkerchief-head” Uncle Tom antics during the rise of the civil-rights movement. While Riccardi makes a compelling case for Pops as an all-around entertainer who scored major hits with unlikely material like “Mack the Knife” and “Hello, Dolly,” some musician sources testify that they could leave the band for years and return to find its set unchanged. Armstrong’s status as a black celebrity is more problematic, and complicated by his position as an informal goodwill ambassador on his many tours abroad. Though he was never servile, his symbiotic relationship with his bare-knuckled white manager Joe Glaser, who acted as protector, slave master and bank teller, is a troublesome part of the story. Even when Armstrong spoke out about race relations—as he did in 1957, when he chastised President Eisenhower for his handling of school desegregation in Arkansas—he came under fire from both bigots and blacks. In the end, Armstrong was a compulsive performer who allowed himself to be literally worked to death at the age of 69 in 1971. Riccardi recounts his tale in sometimes excessive detail; unsifted mountains of source material leave newly unearthed gems like a priceless letter from Armstrong to Glaser about marijuana somewhat lost in the shuffle. The smitten writer is also unable to resist the use of superlatives, and his constant abuse of the word “arguably” may make readers want to rap his knuckles with a ruler. Late Satch gets a deep look, but Riccardi’s main theses remain unproven.

 

Pub Date: June 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-37844-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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