An effusive celebration of a multitalented performer.

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STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT

THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF NAT KING COLE

The story of an African American superstar who brought jazz roots to the Great American Songbook.

Music historian, journalist, and producer Friedwald offers an admiring and overwhelmingly thorough biography of Nathaniel Adams Coles (1919-1965), better known as Nat King Cole. Performing as a jazz pianist from the age of 18, Cole assembled a trio that included a guitarist and a bassist who, it turns out, gave the group its name: “I thought of ‘Old King Cole was a merry old soul,’ you know, and that’s what gave me the idea of calling him Nat King Cole.” For the next decade, the King Cole Trio was “the most popular ‘combo’ of its era,” not least because of Cole’s singing. Although Cole attributed his success to luck, Friedwald makes much of the “superlative musical intelligence” that informed his savvy decisions about genre, songs, venues, arrangers, and record companies. In 1943, Cole decided to promote the catchy original song “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” which became “a late swing-era anthem” after it was heard on radio and in the Trio’s first recording with Capitol Records. That song “accelerated the Trio’s ascent into the stratosphere” and catapulted Cole to fame. Choosing that particular song “was no accident,” according to Friedwald, but a move made “with the tactical skill and ingenuity of the scientists at Los Alamos”; it “proved that he was the Robert Oppenheimer of pop music.” Chronicling Cole’s career year by year in dense detail, the author examines live and recorded performances, singles, albums, TV shows, and movies, analyzing music, lyrics, and arrangements. As far as Cole’s personal life, he recounts racist incidents against Cole (he once was assaulted onstage in Alabama), his family (residents protested when he bought a house in a wealthy white neighborhood), and his property (a devastating IRS investigation, Cole thought, was racially motivated); portrays his second marriage as deeply loving—until it wasn’t; and defends Cole’s lack of involvement with his children as a consequence of being on the road.

An effusive celebration of a multitalented performer.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-088204-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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