Celebrate Jazz: Books About African American Greats

The 2023 Chicago Jazz Festival takes place August 31st through September 3rd. Celebrate the festival at home with these reads about African American contributions to the jazz world.

In Gentleman of Jazz, Ramsey Lewis details his life from his youth in Chicago’s Cabrini Green to his legendary career as one of the most popular jazz pianists of all time.

T.O.B.A. Time is Michelle R. Scott’s history of the Theater Owner's Booking Association (T.O.B.A.), which launched the careers of icons like Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Sammy Davis Jr., Count Basie and more.

While the majority of jazz journalists, critics and authors have been and still are white men, Black music writers like LeRoi Jones, Archie Shepp, A.B. Spellman, Herbie Nichols, Greg Tate and others tell their story in Ain't but A Few of Us.

Billie Holiday is a collection of essays showcasing Billie Holiday’s essential role in the development of American jazz culture and in African American history. These essays range from musical and vocal analyses to critiques of depictions of the singer.

Stuart Nicholson’s Ella Fitzgerald is considered a classic in jazz literature. Nicholson makes use of documents, interviews and new information to paint a complete picture of Fitzgerald’s personal and professional life.

Rage to Survive is Etta James’s intimate chronicle of her triumphs and tragedies. It is also filled with anecdotes about legendary talents in pop music.

Steven C. Dubin's Bronzeville Nights describes Chicago’s Bronzeville’s glory days during the segregated 1940s and 50s. Step into the jazz nightclubs and be entertained by the likes of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.

Who are your favorite African American jazz musicians?