Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Musicians' Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography

An autobiography or memoir at its best provides us with a sense of the author's personality and point of view. It provides an opportunity to learn the background behind the events that the writer has lived through. Although a slim volume, Musicians' Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography by John L. Adams, is a unique and useful reference source that helps the reader discover accounts of musicians' lives written in their own words.

Musicians' Autobiographies consists of entries for 757 entries written between 1803 and 1979. Each entry is listed alphabetically by last name and includes bibliographic information and a brief annotation. The most useful feature of this book is the subject index at its conclusion. This index groups together the autobiographies by the subjects' role in music. For the letter "c" alone, there are entries for categories like "choral conductors," "clarinetists," "composers," "conductors," and "critics, music." Under the subject of "singers" there are subdivisions by genre - classical, popular, jazz, folk - and by nationality. There are subject categories including for women and African-American musicians.

For the subject of "medium (i.e., clairvoyante)" we are given a citation for the book Unfinished Symphonies; Voices From The Beyond written by Rosemary Brown who claims to have transcribed music transmitted to her by the great master composers from beyond the grave. The category "folksong collectors" leads us to Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West, a memoir John I. White who both sang and collected cowboy songs for performance on radio and record and for sheet music. And if one needs an autobiography written by a Native American ceremonial singer this book will lead you to Navajo Blessingway Singer: The Autobiography of Frank Mitchell.

There is an additional index by book title, as well as a chronological index.

An obvious shortcoming of this book is that it only lists books published as recently as 1979. While there are a good number of entries here for jazz, classical, and folk musicians, it is considerably thinner in the realm of rock and pop music. We will have to find another method to unearth the explosion of confessional autobiographies written by musicians and entertainers in the past three decades.

Musicians' Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings Available in English, 1800 to 1980, compiled by John L. Adams (McFarland, 1982).

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