Mr. B: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine

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In 1950, Billy Eckstine was the most popular singer in America. Movie-star handsome with an elegant pencil-thin mustache and a wide vibrato, Eckstine possessed one of the most magnificent voices in popular music history. Born in Pittsburgh, Eckstine won a talent contest by imitating Cab Calloway and started leading jazz orchestras, calling himself Baron Billy. In 1939, he joined Earl Hines' orchestra, composing and performing the hits Jelly, Jelly and Stormy Monday Blues. In 1944, he formed an orchestra that included, during its brief three-year run, the greatest stars in bebop, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Sarah Vaughan. Signing with MGM, he rose to superstar status, sold millions of records, marketed his own line of Mr. B. shirt collars, and inspired an army of female admirers, known as Billy-soxers. His skyrocketing career burned out like a flare, however, thanks to a controversial photograph published in Life magazine. A champion of civil rights, Eckstine fought all his life for recognition and respect in his quest to become America's first black romantic singing idol. Cary Ginell traces, for the first time, the life of one of the twentieth century's most amazing success stories, the man known simply as Mr. B.