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New Jersey’s Musical Heritage: A Library Program and Reading List


New Jersey’s Musical Heritage: A Library Program and Reading List

nj music

New Jersey musicians have had an impact on the music world since colonial days. A number of American musical firsts happened right here in the Garden State.  Jersey natives Francis Hopkinson and James Lyon were among America’s first composers, releasing music in the mid-1700s. And the tradition continued and tapped different genres—from rock and roll to jazz to hip-hop.  Newark was a stop on the road to stardom for many jazz musicians. 

Join speaker Walter Choroszewski on April 8 at 7pm, as he celebrates New Jersey’s significant contributions to American music of the 20th Century, in his presentation Jazz, Pop & Rock: The New Jersey Connection.Walter showcases New Jersey artists including iconic legends such as Sinatra, Count Basie & Springsteen, as well as numerous other talents from the Shirelles to the Four Seasons …and many more who have contributed immensely to the music genres of jazz, pop and rock.

Here are some books and a DVD highlighting NJ’s musical heritage including biographies of legendary musical talents who originated from the Garden State. And below that, check out our own Spotify playlist featuring 50 of the most notable recording artists who were raised in New Jersey.

born to run book

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as “The Big Bang”: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work, and shows us why the song “Born to Run” reveals more than we previously realized.

Didn’t We Almost Have it All : In Defense of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy

This is the story of Whitney’s life, her whole life, told with both grace and honesty.   Hers was a once-in-a-generation talent forged in Newark, NJ, and blessed with the grace of the church and the wisdom of a long lineage of famous gospel singers. She redefined “The Star-Spangled Banner.” She became a box-office powerhouse, a queen of the pop charts, and an international superstar. But all the while, she was forced to rein in who she was amid constant accusations that her music wasn’t Black enough, original enough, honest enough. Kennedy deftly peels back the layers of Whitney’s complex story to get to the truth at the core of what drove her, what inspired her, and what haunted her. He pulls the narrative apart into the key elements that informed her life–growing up in the famed Drinkard family; the two romantic relationships that shaped the entirety of her adult life, with Robyn Crawford and Bobby Brown; her fraught relationship to her own Blackness and the ways in which she was judged by the Black community; her drug and alcohol addiction; and, finally, the shame that she carried in her heart, which informed every facet of her life.

Encyclopedia of Newark Jazz : a Century of Great Music by Barbara J. Kukla

Kukla, for many years a writer for the Newark Star-Ledger, has put together a resource that includes capsule bios of musicians, profiles of jazz institutions, vintage photographs of jazz bands, photos of vintage flyers, essays on jazz by Kukla and others, and more, including a selection of choice quotes called “In Their Own Words.”

Jersey Boys

The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

local heroes

Local Heroes : The Asbury Park Music Scene by Anders Martensson

While the story of Asbury Park is inseparable from widely popular artists, such as Bruce Springsteen, Steven van Zandt, and Southside Johnny Lyon, Local Heroes pays tribute to these musicians alongside the many other talents who stayed behind, playing in local clubs, helping to forge what became known as the “Jersey Shore sound.” In a series of original interviews, readers will hear first-hand from the people who wrote, performed, and lived the music. Accompanied by exclusive photographs, musical personalities such as Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent, Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg, Danny Federici, Bill Chinnock, Vini Lopez, Pete Yorn, and many others are brought to life. 

Making the Scene in the Garden State : Popular Music in New Jersey from Edison to Springsteen and Beyond by Dewar McLeod

Mcleod explores New Jersey’s rich musical heritage through stories about the musicians, listeners and fans who came together to create sounds from across the American popular music spectrum. The book includes chapters on the beginnings of musical recording in Thomas Edison’s factories in West Orange; early recording and the invention of the Victrola at Victor Records’ Camden complex; Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studios (for Blue Note, Prestige, and other jazz labels) in Hackensack and Englewood Cliffs; Zacherley and the after school dance television show Disc-o-Teen, broadcast from Newark in the 1960s; Bruce Springsteen’s early years on the Jersey Shore at the Upstage Club in Asbury Park; and, the 1980s indie rock scene centered at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. Concluding with a foray into the thriving local music scenes of today, the book examines the sounds, sights and textures of the locales where New Jerseyans have gathered to rock, bop, and boogie.

Sinatra and Me in the Wee Small Hours by Tony Oppedisano

From Sinatra’s closest confidant and an eventual member of his management team, Tony Oppedisano, comes an extraordinarily intimate look at the singing idol. Deep into the night, for more than two thousand nights, Frank and Tony would converse–about music, family, friends, great loves, achievements and successes, failures and disappointments, the lives they’d led, the lives they wished they’d led. In these full-disclosure conversations, Sinatra spoke of his close yet complex relationship with his father, his conflicts with record companies, his carousing in Vegas, his love affairs with some of the most beautiful women of his era, his triumphs on some of the world’s biggest stages, his complicated relationships with his talented children, and, most important, his dedication to his craft.

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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