Real Men Don′t Sing

Crooning in American Culture

Real Men Don′t Sing

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 448 Illustrations: 80 illustrations Published: September 2015

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Music > Popular Music

The crooner Rudy Vallée's soft, intimate, and sensual vocal delivery simultaneously captivated millions of adoring fans and drew harsh criticism from those threatened by his sensitive masculinity. Although Vallée and other crooners reflected the gender fluidity of late-1920s popular culture, their challenge to the Depression era's more conservative masculine norms led cultural authorities to stigmatize them as gender and sexual deviants. In Real Men Don't Sing Allison McCracken outlines crooning's history from its origins in minstrelsy through its development as the microphone sound most associated with white recording artists, band singers, and radio stars. She charts early crooners’ rise and fall between 1925 and 1934, contrasting Rudy Vallée with Bing Crosby to demonstrate how attempts to contain crooners created and dictated standards of white masculinity for male singers. Unlike Vallée, Crosby survived the crooner backlash by adapting his voice and persona to adhere to white middle-class masculine norms. The effects of these norms are felt to this day, as critics continue to question the masculinity of youthful, romantic white male singers. Crooners, McCracken shows, not only were the first pop stars: their short-lived yet massive popularity fundamentally changed American culture.


"[A] rich, intriguing account of how microphone-assisted heartthrobs won over American ears in the early 20th century."  — Ann Powers, NPR Book Concierge

"A painstakingly researched book, sure in its thesis and apt in its presentation, this versatile study is of immediate appeal to those interested in music but will also be a valuable resource for those in gender studies, African American studies, American studies, and all concentrations of history. Highly recommended. All readers." — J. Neal, Choice

"... marvelous... The author’s evidently deep research increases the pleasure of reading the book—and creates a nagging desire to stop reading it to seek out clips from the movies and songs she discusses." — Art Blake, Journal of Popular Music Studies

“As befits an academic author, McCracken is primarily concerned with the social aspects of the phenomenon, especially the sexual implications as the style developed in the late 1920s. … Recommended for readers interested in American social history, popular culture, popular music, and gender studies.” — Bruce R. Schueneman, Library Journal

"Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture is an excellent book. Those looking for ways to blend modern theory, historical context, and popular culture (in this case music and film) would do well to use McCracken’s work as a model. She tackles many complex issues, from queer theory to technology and its impact, in a way that’s readable and succinct." — Kenneth J. Bindas, American Historical Review

"[A] stunning account of crooning and the development of American pop." — Charles L. Hughes, American Quarterly

"Real Men Don’t Sing is a forcefully argued and thoroughly engaging book that would be an ideal text in courses on popular culture or gender and the body." — Maxine Leeds Craig, Men and Masculinities

"Allison McCracken explores the blurred genders of the croon through intimate historical detail, impeccable research, and a sense of the ever-shifting mores of sexual identity. She understands how technology influences artistry, and how the core of musical seduction remains constant, a voice whispering in the ear, a man singing to a woman in her own lingual."  — Lenny Kaye, author of You Call It Madness: The Sensuous Song of the Croon

"Allison McCracken's subject in this animated and incisive study is less than ten years of swooning Prohibition-era American pop, but she'll make you a quick believer that it forever changed what it means to listen to 'men' and 'women' singing. Cue up some Rudy Vallée and be prepared to never hear the recorded male singing voice the same way again."  — Josh Kun, University of Southern California


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Allison McCracken is Associate Professor of American Studies at DePaul University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction  1

1. Putting Over a Song: Crooning, Performance, and Audience in the Acoustic Era, 1880–1920  37

2. Crooning Goes Electric: Microphone Crooning and the Invention of the Intimate Singing Aesthetic, 1921–1928  74

3. Falling in Love with a Voice: Rudy Vallée and His First Radio Fans, 1928  126

4. "The Mouth of the Machine": The Creation of the Crooning Idol, 1929  160

5. "A Supine Sinking into the Primeval Ooze": Crooning and Its Discontents, 1929–1933  208

6. "The Kind of Natural That Worked": The Crooner Redefined, 1932–1934 (and Beyond)  264

Conclusion  311

Notes  333

Bibliography  375

Index  411
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Co-Winner, 2016-2017 SCMS Best First Book Award

2016 Choice Outstanding Academic Title (Choice Magazine)

Winner, 2016 Woody Guthrie Prize, presented by IASPM-US

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