She Sings the Songs | Women Pop Singers of the 1950s

Popular women singers of the 1950s are spotlighted in two volumes that detail their careers, challenges, and critical acclaim. 

Bergsman, Steve. All I Want Is Loving You: Popular Female Singers of the 1950s. Univ. Pr. of Mississippi. Nov. 2023. 277p. ISBN 9781496848796. pap. $30. MUSIC

This engrossing history is packed with impressive details and a healthy dose of nostalgia, set in a striking cultural framework. Bergsman chronologically traces the rise of popular white women singers into their chartbuster solo spotlights during the 1950s. From Teresa Brewer, Patti Page, and Rosemary Clooney to Doris Day and Gogi Grant, a who’s who of the famous, sometimes forgotten, is presented alongside biographical cameos, captivating career anecdotes, and the stories behind the songs, including such hits as “The Tennessee Waltz” and “Que Sera, Sera.” Comparative information on the careers of their contemporary men counterparts—Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Elvis Presley, and others—provides relevant context. Bergsman focuses on Black women singers from the same era in a companion volume (What a Difference a Day Makes). Behind-the-scenes views of the recording industry and analyses of evolving musical and social trends leading to the next decade also offer a comprehensive background. Helpful notes enhance the text, and the generously selected discography is a wonderful resource for listening while reading this well-written, valuable narrative. VERDICT Enjoyable and educational. Will appeal to a wide range of popular-musical enthusiasts, including those who remember the era well and those eager to learn more about it.

Bergsman, Steve. What a Difference a Day Makes: Women Who Conquered 1950s Music. Univ. Pr. of Mississippi. Nov. 2023. 277p. ISBN 9781496848956. pap. $30. MUSIC

In an already tough music industry for pop singers in the 1950s, Black women encountered additional challenges in securing honest management, fair contracts, and recognition on the charts. Bergsman (All I Want Is Loving You) reveals their struggles, triumphs, and behind-the-scenes stories as they performed, recorded, and left a legacy of song renditions defined by superior vocal abilities and creative interpretations. Year by year through this decade, he weaves well-researched details into a captivating narrative that explores the personal and professional lives of such iconic musical groundbreakers as Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Etta James. He also focuses on names not as frequently recalled—Savannah Churchill and Edna McGriff among them. Fascinating anecdotes about an eclectic array of songs, both enduring and forgotten (“Teach Me Tonight”; “The Wallflower”), are not to be missed, nor is the background material about emerging girl groups, such as the Shirelles, who increasingly moved into the limelight in the 1960s. Comprehensive notes and a selected discography further enhance this superb volume. VERDICT Balancing the biographical and the historical, this informative and stylishly written work illuminates the lives and contributions of these gifted performers. For popular-music lovers.

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