Eckstine bio reveals local legend
Author Cary Ginell puts together a strong case for greater renown for Pittsburgh native Billy Eckstine in his new biography of the singer-bandleader.
In the quick-moving “Mr. B: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine,” the music historian delivers a detailed account of the singer (1914-93) who stayed popular for five decades. But, perhaps more importantly, he also put together a big band that moved jazz into the bebop era with stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
Yet, Ginell bemoans, “despite the trails he blazed as popular music's first African-American romantic icon, his legacy has been obscured” largely because of the night-club nature of his work.
The book is filled with detail including the Germanic heritage of the family, dating back to William Eckstein, who emigrated to the United States in the 1850s. William Eckstein's son, Billy's grandfather, married an African-American woman in the 1880s.
Billy's name was changed to Eckstine by a promoter who was irked at some audiences thinking he was Jewish, not black.
The book details, sometimes record by record, Eckstine's career as a singer, nightclub star and bandleader. But the biggest part of his career was in the midst of a record strike by the American Federation of Musicians, limiting his audience.
As rock 'n' roll and rhythm-and-blues grabbed the public in the 1950s, his vibrato-laden style took more hits.
Ginell says Eckstine's efforts to be an African-American version of Frank Sinatra show a “sense of purpose” similar to that of Jackie Robinson's.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7852.
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments â either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.