The best books about singers

14 authors have picked their favorite books about singers and why they recommend each book.

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The Art of Asking

By Amanda Palmer,

Book cover of The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

This book checked all the boxes for a rollicking read – a strong woman, a memoir, and a smattering of self-help and it did not disappoint. I didn't read it, I devoured it. Loved all the interesting stories and pearls of wisdom. Take the donut! If you like self-help and memoir, or like me, love a combo of both, then this is the book for you. It is the kind of book that stays with you for a long, long time. I can't recommend this book enough. Just read it. 


Who am I?

I have read a ton of self-help books. A ton. I have a whole library of them – a bookcase of "shelf-help." And I have now written 7 of them as well! I love it when a little or a lot of the author’s story is woven into a self-help book as it demonstrates the author’s personal growth. I don’t need more self-help tools or trite suggestions. I want to feel emotionally connected and moved in a way that encourages me to reflect on and enhance my one precious life. For me, reading a well-written self-help memoir is one of life’s greatest joys. 


I wrote...

Rediscover Your Sparkle: Revive the Real You and Be Rebelliously Happy Every Day

By Julie Schooler,

Book cover of Rediscover Your Sparkle: Revive the Real You and Be Rebelliously Happy Every Day

What is my book about?

This short book has all the ingredients YOU need to create a delicious and simple recipe to rediscover your sparkle. It provides ‘sparkle strategies’ to take your daily life from tired, stressed, and overwhelmed to being full of fun, love, and energy.  

Read this book and you will immediately start to feel more light, energized, and cheerful. Find out just how meaningful and exciting life can be, right now and for the rest of your life.

Simple Dreams

By Linda Ronstadt,

Book cover of Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir

This wonderfully written memoir by one of the most successful singers in American rock and popular music offers a thoughtful look at the artist’s rise to fame in multiple musical genres—from folk clubs to sold-out stadium concerts, to Broadway, torch songs, and the Mexican Canciones music of the author’s Sonora heritage. The book is a keen glimpse at the pressures of the road (and expectations for women in the spotlight), but a triumphant story of talent and artistic innovation.


Who am I?

My expertise as a scholar of the women’s music movement spans 40 years--ever since I attended my first concert and music festival in 1981. A lecturer at UC-Berkeley, I’m the author of 19 books on women’s history, and published the first book on women’s music festivals, Eden Built By Eves, in 1999 (now out of print.) More recently I’ve organized exhibits on the women’s music movement for the Library of Congress, co-authored The Feminist Revolution (which made Oprah’s list), and I’m now the archivist and historian for Olivia Records.


I wrote...

The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

By Bonnie Morris,

Book cover of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

What is my book about?

The Disappearing L offers an overview of the rise and fall of lesbian cultural spaces. What was the soundtrack of the feminist revolution? How did artists, producers, and fans create a vast network of women’s concerts, recording companies, and festivals that offered meaningful performance spaces for women coming out as lesbians—and performers too radical for the mainstream? The book examines how women’s bookstores, women’s studies programs, and other year-round institutions built spaces that included a music subculture—only to see independent venues vanish once LGBT rights and mainstreaming were attained. As women’s music spaces are disappearing, how will we remember them?

Chronicles

By Bob Dylan,

Book cover of Chronicles: Volume One

An essential read for anyone interested in the life and art of Bob Dylan. The long-awaited autobiography is scarcely the typical celebrity volume. While little more than a taster, providing selected parts of the artist’s story in his own words and in his uniquely engaging voice, the areas covered appear in surprisingly revelatory detail and with extraordinary candor. It is the biggest selling Dylan book, by far, with an initial print run of 250,000, eclipsing all other such titles, its appearance 18 years ago was a major publishing event. Sub-titled Volume One, it begs the question, will we ever see a subsequent edition?

Who am I?

At the age of 23 I brought Bob Dylan to the Isle of Wight to play the 1969 festival. In my naivety when making the bid I knew nothing about the sixties superstar but by the time he accepted the invitation I had soaked up all that was generally known of his music and backstory. Through the decades since I have closely followed Dylan’s remarkable career and written about his indispensable place in the counterculture. I am an architect and author working in Oxford.


I wrote...

Stealing Bob Dylan from Woodstock: When the World Came to the Isle of Wight. Volume 1

By Ray Foulk, Caroline Foulk,

Book cover of Stealing Bob Dylan from Woodstock: When the World Came to the Isle of Wight. Volume 1

What is my book about?

As well as the background to the festival and the event itself, Stealing Dylan from Woodstock also explores the artist’s career through a period in which the Isle of Wight was the only pre-scheduled or full concert he performed in seven-and-a-half years. This critical period was a major transition in his life and work, during which he was resident in Woodstock, working with the Band, until, to his chagrin, the eponymous festival was put in his backyard, and from which he departed for England to play his own festival.

Boys in the Trees

By Carly Simon,

Book cover of Boys in the Trees: A Memoir

This is a candid autobiography of an unlikely rock star. Relying on her early journals, Carly Simon conveys the details of her privileged childhood and storybook career as a singer/songwriter. Woven through her musical accomplishments are her relationships – primarily her marriage to James Taylor – but also with Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson, Cat Stephens, and Kris Kristofferson. 


Who am I?

As a life coach and author of two dozen self-help books, I’ve spent the past twenty years helping people to be more creative. I love reading about the early lives of artists because it is an engaging way to learn about the creative process. Even rock stars have doubts, insecurities, regrets, and setbacks. Yet, fueled by their passions, they persist. They overcome their obstacles and pursue unique paths to success. These books are inspirational and informative for anyone with a creative dream.


I wrote...

Be More Creative: 101 Activities to Unleash and Grow Your Creativity

By Liisa Kyle,

Book cover of Be More Creative: 101 Activities to Unleash and Grow Your Creativity

What is my book about?

Yes, you can be more creative! This activity book features 101 opportunities for you to express yourself in new ways; get inspired; explore different ways to innovate; stimulate your creative juices; use your imagination; play; boost your ingenuity; get energized; invent novel solutions to challenges; blast creative blocks; experience and learn new things; inject more fun in your life, and learn about yourself.

Rage to Survive

By Etta James, David Ritz,

Book cover of Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story

One of my favorite memoirs, Rage to Survive is a no-holds-barred dive into the life and times of powerful singer who traversed the genres of rock and roll, blues, and R&B during her decades-long career. James tells compelling stories about her tough upbringing on the west coast and her teenage immersion into sex, drugs, and early rock and roll (check out her 1955 hit “The Wallflower”); shares her experiences touring in the segregated south during the 1950s; offers gossip about well-known musical figures; and reflects on her development as an artist navigating the recording industry in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties. Throughout she offers insights about love, loss, motherhood, hard knocks, bad choices, addiction, and personal and professional triumphs. James speaks with passion, humor, and honesty. 


Who am I?

Over many years of being an African American fan of rock music, I’ve learned that the combination of my gender, race, and musical taste can be disconcerting to people who expect Black women to adhere to a limited set of cultural interests. My frustration with these kinds of assumptions, my awareness that rock has deep roots in African American musical culture, my curiosity about the experiences of African American women who participated in rock and roll, and my desire to make sure that they are part of the stories we tell about the music’s history led me to write Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll


I wrote...

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll

By Maureen Mahon,

Book cover of Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll

What is my book about?

Black Diamond Queens by scholar and professor of music Maureen Mahon explores the pivotal part African American women have played in rock and roll—from laying its foundations and singing chart-topping hits to influencing some of the genre's most iconic acts. By uncovering this hidden history and the cultural impact of Big Mama Thornton, LaVern Baker, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, Merry Clayton, Labelle, the Shirelles, and other Black women in rock and roll, Mahon reveals a powerful sonic legacy that continues to reverberate into the twenty-first century.

The Voice of Egypt, 1997

By Virginia Danielson,

Book cover of The Voice of Egypt, 1997: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century

The essential biography of Umm Kulthum for the English reader. Danielson tells the story of the Arab world’s most famous singer, one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. This book charts her life from the small village in the Nile Delta where she grew up to the heights of global superstardom. It also paints a picture of the world that she moved through, which intersected with the world depicted in Midnight in Cairo. This is a necessary read for anyone interested in Arabic music.

Who am I?

I am a writer and an Arabic to English translator, with a PhD in Arabic Theatre from the University of Edinburgh. In recent years, I have gravitated towards the history of popular culture and the demi-monde in the Middle East. The stories of singers and dancers say much more to me than the conventional subjects of histories of the Arab world – politicians, soldiers, etc. Through them, we can see the Middle East in a way that we seldom see in the West means much more to a lot of the people who live there.


I wrote...

Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt's Roaring '20s

By Raphael Cormack,

Book cover of Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt's Roaring '20s

What is my book about?

Following the lives of the most powerful, charismatic, and independent female stars of Cairo’s early-twentieth-century nightlife, this book delves into stories that many historians ignore. Away from high parliamentary politics and elite circles, a group of women were defining what it meant to be Egyptian in the modern world. In smoke-filled nightclubs, a new world was being born and the singers, dancers, and cabaret owners of Egypt were its central protagonists.

Dusty

By Lucy O’Brien,

Book cover of Dusty: The Classic Biography

This enduring LGBTQ icon might have been famously enigmatic, but O’Brien presents the story of the cool queen of blue-eyed soul with depth, precision, and humanity, qualities present in all of O’Brien’s books. Dusty’s tale is multi-faceted, often troubled, and tremendously relatable, but her profound strength comes through in this meticulously researched book, which also features an array of interviews with contemporaries and colleagues such as Tom Jones, Lulu, and Jerry Wexler. 


Who am I?

I’m a music biographer, and whenever I’ve hinted that the world of rock biography is a bit of a boys’ club, someone will bark names of famous female musicians who’ve written autobiographies at me. All brilliant, but biography is a different animal. It demands sensitivity, trust, intuition, empathy: the writer is presenting the story of another, wooing a publisher, balancing multiple perspectives, being a detective, asking strange questions, penetrating the skin, probing often forgotten places. Female music writers frequently face assumptions ranging from the dismissive to the salacious before being neatly sidelined, but this is changing – slowly.  I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some rare queens of the art here.

I wrote...

Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

By Zoë Howe,

Book cover of Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story

What is my book about?

Musically, culturally and even in terms of sheer attitude, the Jesus and Mary Chain stand alone. Their seminal debut album Psychocandy changed the course of popular music, and their iconic blend of psychotic white noise and darkly surreal lyrics that presaged the shoegaze movement continues to enchant and confound.

Zoë Howe's biography is the fierce, frank, and funny tale of the Jesus and Mary Chain, told by the band members and their associates for the very first time. The story begins in the faceless town of East Kilbride, near Glasgow, at the dawn of the 1980s with two intense, chronically shy brothers, Jim and William Reid, listening to music in their shared bedroom. What follows charts an unforgettable journey complete with incendiary live performances, their pivotal relationship with Alan McGee's Creation Records, and those famous fraternal tensions―with plenty of feedback, fighting, and crafting perfect pop music along the way. It is high time this vastly influential group and sometimes public enemy had their say.

Cry to Heaven

By Anne Rice,

Book cover of Cry to Heaven

There’s a reason why so many books set in Venice revolve around death, heaven (aka Paradise), mystery, and love lost & found. There’s a story lying in wait around every alley corner, under every bridge, and at the bottom of every canal. It’s no surprise that Anne Rice, the queen of Vampire lit, set Cry to Heaven in Venice. Her novel is impeccably researched and written, bringing to life the castriti of the 18th century—men who were castrated to become sopranos for the opera houses and royal courts. Beneath the decadence of the surface of Anne Rice’s Venice lies a dark underbelly.


Who am I?

As an author of a dual-timeline thriller series set in Venice in the present-day and 16th century, I’ve spent countless hours researching the world’s most mesmerizing city. I’ve been there three times, including on a research trip. I’ve worked with historians and experts on various aspects and have explored the ancient streets and buildings first-hand. I’ve also read dozens of books set in Venice.


I wrote...

The Prisoner of Paradise

By Rob Samborn,

Book cover of The Prisoner of Paradise

What is my book about?

The Prisoner of Paradise is a dual-timeline thriller about Nick & Julia O'Connor, an American couple who travel to Venice, Italy on vacation. After a head injury, Nick comes to believe he can hear a woman speaking to him from Tintoretto's 'Paradise,' located in the Doge's Palace. Though Julia thinks he's suffering from delusions, Nick is adamant the voice was real. He believes it belongs to Isabella Scalfini, a woman who was murdered in 1589. 

On a quest to learn the truth, Nick discovers an ancient religious order that has developed a method of extracting people's souls from their bodies. They imprison those souls in Paradise--the world's largest oil painting--and claim that the thousands of people in it are all evil.

Shine Bright

By Danyel Smith,

Book cover of Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop

I have known the amazing author Danyel Smith for over 15 years. At first, I only knew her through her incredible writing, but I grew to know her personally when she hired me as a Managing Editor at Vibe magazine when she was the Editor-in-Chief. During that time, I was able to personally witness her knowledge of music and the entertainment industry, as well as her unwavering passion for storytelling behind the music. 

Her new book, Shine Bright, which she has been writing for more than five years, seems so fitting as part of her journey. Described as “a weave of biography, criticism, and memoir” it’s a history of Black women’s music as the foundational story of American pop.


Who am I?

I am all about support, and support is a big part of Black Girl Magic. I believe that every woman should have a support system and community that values each and every person in it. Many of these authors have been featured on my podcast Support is Sexy, an interview-based podcast that introduces dynamic women professionals and the stories of their journeys to my audiences around the world. I recommended the books of these women because I love their message of self-care, self-love, support, and nurturing a healthy community. 


I wrote...

Get Over "I Got It"

By Elayne Fluker,

Book cover of Get Over "I Got It"

What is my book about?

If you’re an unapologetically ambitious woman, Elayne is cheering you on—but she’s also encouraging you to recognize how imperative it is that you stop struggling to do it all alone. Too many women suffer from “I Got It!” Syndrome as they strive to accomplish their goals. This mindset can lead to major stress and anxiety. Elayne offers a better approach.

In this book, you’ll learn how establishing a solid support network and enrolling others in your vision are crucial to achieving success and how these healthy strategies have helped billionaire entrepreneurs such as media mogul Oprah Winfrey and Spanx founder Sara Blakely—and ambitious women just like you—reach their next level. It’s time for you to get some support. Get Over “I Got It” tells you how.

Libba

By Laura Veirs, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (illustrator),

Book cover of Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

When my son was a rocking toddler, he needed everything just so—a twisted guitar strap could ruin his gig. We both drew inspiration from Elizabeth Cotten, who managed to play guitar despite being left-handed and teaching herself upside down and backwards. By the age of 11, Cotten had written “Freight Train,” one of the most famous folk songs of the last century. Take that, perfectionism.


Who am I?

I am not a rock star but I do play a mean (computer) keyboard. My debut picture book, How to Be a Rock Star, was inspired by my musical children and our endless hours jamming as a family band. I was always on the lookout for books to inspire my little rock star, and because they were hard to come by, I wrote one! These books will inspire your budding musician, or just help you embrace a spirit of creative play in any way they want to rock.


I wrote...

How to Be a Rock Star

By Lisa Tolin, Daniel Duncan (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Be a Rock Star

What is my book about?

How to Be a Rock Star is a tongue-in-cheek guide to everything a kid needs to know to start a rock band. Becoming a rock star isn't easy. From finding the right instrument to mastering the best dance moves, to taking your band on the road, there's a lot to consider! And that's not to mention dealing with critics, crazed fans, and a little brother with a chocolate milk problem.... Luckily, this giggle-inducing book has everything you need to know to make it big.

“A joyous, raucous must-have manual for little rock stars everywhere.” - Savannah Guthrie, Today show co-anchor

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