I am a sucker for a good "life and times" biography - the kind of book that uses a single life to give focus to what is really an interpretation of a complex chapter in history. This is a great example of this approach. Redding was an undeniably great singer whose impact was undeniably limited by his early death. However, Gould uses that short life as the center of a cultural history of the civil rights movement. Redding's career begins in a pre-teen gospel quartet at approximately the same time as Brown v Board of Ed and he dies a month before Martin Luther King is assassinated. His career is built from the tenuous and challenging relationships he forms with white managers, recording executives and session musicians as well as his determination to forge his place among the soul and R&B musicians he considers his heroes.
Gould is a fine writer and in this volume we get histories of the careers of Ray Charles, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin and scores of others. He is able to place myriad sub topics into his narrative of race relations – for example there is a fascinating chapter on how improvements the technology of recording and transmitting music for radio play in the 1940s affected race relations in the South.
In his short life, Redding produced hours of some of the finest American music ever produced. Reading this book with the power to stream that music is a truly great cultural experience.