Ladies Sing the Blues

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It's an old familiar song. Girl has a remarkable voice, which her hometown discovers before she even enters school. By her teens, she is singing professionally. Soon, she's on the road. Fame and fortune come her way, either through struggle or windfall. So do men, who often treat her shabbily. There might be a season of drugs or insanity, or both. Still, musical success has arrived. It's a well-worn tale, but we never tire of hearing about these divas of our day. And the publishing industry is ever eager to oblige. Here are some new tomes about our finest songstresses:

Sweet Singer
When Rosemary Clooney first heard Come On-a My House, she was underwhelmed. "I thought the lyric ranged from incoherent to just plain silly," she recalls in her engaging memoir Girl Singer: An Autobiography (Doubleday), written with Joan Barthel. But Clooney soon changed her mind when the playful song catapulted her to stardom. "I'd gone from being just another girl singer to a full-page photo in LIFE, from 'Rosemary who?' to a household word," she marvels.

Clooney, known now to a new generation as the aunt of actor George Clooney, tells a good yarn. Still the likable girl-next-door, despite life's vicissitudes, she describes how she went from being a schoolgirl in kneesocks in Maysville, Ky., to a Big Band singer, performing with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. There were bumps along the way: a failed marriage to the unfaithful Jose Ferrer, addiction to prescription drugs, even a stay in a psychiatric ward. Life got so blurry, she flushed a 7 1/2-carat diamond down the toilet. But Clooney is back in the game now and takes the reader on a good ride. Why not? She went on one herself that took her from the White House to Buckingham Palace.

Spiritual Journey
A long time later, Marian Anderson would recall her early years in south Philadelphia. "I'd think, 'Can't I sing? Can't I be a singer because I'm colored?'" Nobody was more entitled to that musical success, proclaims the meticulously researched new biography Marian Anderson: A Singer's Journey (Scribner), by Brandeis professor of music Allan Keiler. By 10 years old, Anderson was already known locally as "the baby contralto." But it would take an uphill fight, time spent in Europe, even the intercession of Eleanor Roosevelt, for her to triumph over discrimination in the U.S. It was only when she was refused a booking at Constitution Hall, the headquarters of the D.A.R., that Anderson, a singer of classical music, opera and spirituals, burst into the national consciousness. By the time she died in 1993, at 96, the baby contralto had become a national icon. Alas, Keiler's book is so exhaustive that it is exhausting, likely to wear out everyone but serious students of music.

Over the Rainbow
Judy Garland's famously messy life has served as fodder for many writers. This March, Gerald Clarke, a former TIME senior writer and author of Capote, will weigh in with his volume Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland (Random House). The book's title, from one of Garland's oft-sung standards, is ironic; Garland never could get happy, despite her frantic efforts. Clarke's 10 years of research and 500 interviews blend into a smooth, tantalizing read. After learning more about Garland's tumultuous childhood (Dad repeatedly got into trouble for pursuing teenage boys; Mom was the stage mother from hell), readers will never question why Frances Ethel Gumm grew up to be the sad, pill-popping, suicidal adult that she was. Endless love affairs, abortions, crises, overdoses--it's all here. Oh, and some not-too-shabby singing and moviemaking too.