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Crooning on the Fault Lines: Theorizing Jazz and Pop Vocal Singing Discourse in the Rock Era, 1955-1978
American Music (2008)
  • Vincent L Stephens, Bucknell University

The critical boundaries drawn between pop crooning and jazz singing are less discrete than commonly perceived by critics and historians. Commercial choices rather than clear-cut aesthetic differences have influenced classifications of non-improvisers like Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee as “jazz” singers, a category presumed to represent the ultimate in vocal interpretation. Comparatively, singers like Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand are aesthetically similar to prerock crooners (PRCs) but typically understood as pop singers and thus on a lower interpretive tier. This article interrogates the binary by examining the overlaps and divergences between PRCs whose recording careers (mostly) began during the big band era, and a new generation rock era crooners (RECs) crooners who began recording in the mid-1950s. PRCs and RECs struggled to achieve commercial relevance during the early rock ‘n’ roll era. Despite key aesthetic and commercial parallels, such as their disproportionate popularity on easy listening rather than pop radio formats, their responses to rock music’s post-1967 dominance etched a discursive line between them. Rather than languishing, by the early 1970s RECs recorded more contemporary material that kept them in the commercial mainstream. Comparatively most PRCs had retreated from major label recording. This analysis of recordings and industry trends reveals how commercial choices influenced critical perceptions of authenticity.

  • jazz singing,
  • crooning
Publication Date
Summer 2008
Citation Information
Vincent L Stephens. "Crooning on the Fault Lines: Theorizing Jazz and Pop Vocal Singing Discourse in the Rock Era, 1955-1978" American Music Vol. 26 Iss. 2 (2008)
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