Allison McCracken, 2016 Woody Guthrie Award Winner

by Jarek Ervin on March 1, 2017

The International Association for the Study of Popular Music-US Branch (IASPM-US) presents the Woody Guthrie Award each year to the most outstanding book on popular music. Winners are awarded $1,000 and are announced each year at the IASPM-US Annual Conference. The 2016 Woody Guthrie Award goes to Allison McCracken for her book Real Men Don′t Sing: Crooning in American Culture.

The book’s description reads:

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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.

Kariann Goldschmitt, the chair of the prize committee, read this statement at the Business Meeting during the IASPM-US 2017 Conference:

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The Woody Guthrie Book Prize Committee was composed of Brad Osborn (University of Kansas), Alexa Woloshyn (Carnegie Mellon) with Kariann Goldschmitt (Wellesley College) serving as chair. We received over 40 nominations this year. Out of many outstanding books, one rose to the top in a unanimous decision. This is a book that demonstrates what the committee believes is the best of what popular music research can do, merging meticulous archival research, close listening, and nuanced readings of the performance of race, gender, and sexuality at an early period of music and broadcast radio, film, and recording. We were especially impressed with the book’s far-reaching ideas for how we can understand gender in performance and reception up through the present day of gender-queer male vocals on American Idol and Glee. Through its history of the changing nature of male voices, the power of female fandom, and society’s expectations for men and women around sex, the book presents a captivating history of crooning. We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2016 Woody Guthrie Book Prize goes to Allison McCracken for Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Duke University Press).

Congratulations!

The 2016 prize committee included Brad Osborn, Alexa Woloshyn, and Kariann Goldschmitt. The award was presented at the business meeting of the IASPM-US Conference in Cleveland on February 25, 2017.

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