Good Minds Suggest: James McBride's Favorite Books About Musical Icons

Posted by Goodreads on April 4, 2016
James McBride

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Few would be better equipped to chronicle the life of James Brown, Godfather of Soul, than James McBride. The National Book Award winner (for The Good Lord Bird in 2013) has alternated between writing and music since he was a young man, trading years as a journalist at The Boston Globe, Washington Post, and others for stints as a composer and saxophonist while also penning acclaimed works, such as his memoir, The Color of Water, along the way. McBride's latest book, Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul, took three years of immersive research as he chased the cultural and musical roots of one of the world's most influential artists. The result is a book that places James Brown in context, from gospel to funk, against the backdrop of 20th-century politics. McBride shares his favorite books about musical giants, those who could rub shoulders with the greatness of James Brown.

Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice by Tad Hershorn
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"My top pick. Great book about Granz, an outsider to American life, who created the great jazz series concerts that brought the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Ben Webster, and Oscar Peterson to audiences worldwide. Granz was a fearless promoter of civil rights, a complicated, conflicted man with a deep appreciation for art and a love of justice."


Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff
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"Fascinating insights on saxophonist John Coltrane and his development. It's a well-written, thoughtful book on Trane by someone who really understands jazz and hears a lot of it. There are a couple of good books on Trane I haven't got to yet. But Ratliff's insightful, smoothly written book is a great place to start."


1791: Mozart's Last Year by H.C. Robbins Landon
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"Fascinating book. I'm one of those guys who goes to the bookstore, flips through bios, then goes to the end to see how the guy dies. Landon, one of the world's leading Mozart scholars, zooms in on the end of Mozart's life. Mozart wrote 41 symphonies and died at 35. Landon shows that the circus around the music world in 1791 bears sad similarity to the world of serious music now."


Maria Callas, A Tribute by Pierre-Jean Rémy
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"Interesting overview from a European perspective on one of the greatest voices in western music history. Callas was a charismatic figure, misunderstood by the world, in my view. Reading this work helped me lock in on tumultuous mysteries of James Brown's life. The great artists like Callas are like dinosaurs. They walk alone."


Aaron Copland by Arthur Berger
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"Berger was an American composer and friend of Aaron Copland, one of America's greatest composers. It's always interesting to hear one musician talk about another. Berger's not a great writer per se, and the book is a bit academic and it moves in slow, linear fashion. But his understanding of both Copland and his music is deep. Also, Berger knew a lot of the great American composers who are not known outside the world of music, like composer/critic Deems Taylor."





Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Music Biographies



Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Liz (new)

Liz Lapp Have you considered "The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band," by Neil Strauss or "Just Kids," by Patti Smith?


message 2: by Pkballhaus (new)

Pkballhaus What about "The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Women and Germany on the Brink"


message 3: by Rob (new)

Rob Slocum Bob Dylan's autobiographical CHRONICLES almost creates a new language


message 4: by D. (new)

D. S. Charles Mingus Beneath the Underdog.
Miles Davis the Autobiography. Both great.


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