Book Review: I Sang That
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
Sally Stevens’ wonderful account of sixty remarkable years in show business
There are few things as precious as a conversation with someone older than you about their life: Learning about their past loves spanning decades, the random things that irritate them now, their greatest desires when they were your age, discovering what the world you know was like before you were born, and how much of their past they recognize in present day. And somehow there’s always an unexpected, shocking twist!
A celebrity they knew, a piece of legendary local gossip they have insight into, a movie you adore that they were part of creating. Reading I Sang That… is like all the best versions of those conversations in one. Author Sally Stevens is fascinating, wise, generous with her time, and fair in her perspective—and she has lived an extraordinary life.
This memoir is a look into the business of Hollywood as told by a woman whose irrepressible passion for music has taken her on glorious and turbulent journeys—as a singer, lyricist, vocal contractor, and choral director; a mother, daughter, fiancée, and wife; a resident of California, a neighbor, landlord, and woman working as a freelancer; a studio sessions colleague, union member, photographer—and so much more!
This conversational journey through an astonishing musical life is a delightful tune (though at certain points heartbreaking, making it all the more captivating) that you’ll want to play for everyone you know. We end up just as enthralled, intrigued and endeared by Sally’s family as we are with the found-family community that raised her as a child and enabled her to bless us with her talents this long.
We meet her caregiver, who took her to a Catholic Church in Beverley Hills where celebrities could often be seen; her father, who kept a journal when he went away to war and wrote letters to his young daughter; her mother, who married into a family of Christian Scientists and died before Sally realized some devastating truths about how the mind copes with childhood trauma.
Even when Sally goes into the logistical details of how the industry worked at the time, it’s mesmerizing and never tedious—all the specifics simply add to the charm and cultural context of an era gone by. The many, many names she encountered and worked with are tied to monumental moments in pop culture. Readers of any age will recognize the powerful musical and cultural touchstones (song lyrics, film titles, wildly famous actors and actresses of the day) that were symbols of the years in which their parents and grandparents grew up, and who still have a tremendous impact on our lives today.
The nature of these stories also makes I Sang That… a wonderful book to call up your movie- and music-loving friends, parents, and grandparents to share behind-the-scenes stories from films and records that filled their youth.
Stevens frequently reminds us of the many positive results that unions have brought into her life. It feels so meaningful to read about her reconsidering what true diversity looks like while staffing the roles she was tasked with filling. I adored the moments where she ended a story from her younger days with words like “Upon reflection, I now think…” reminding us of the considerable wisdom gained with age, kindness, and a life well-lived.
In between the tales of jobs gained and lost, houses lived in and left behind, Stevens graciously documents the sweet relationships and spontaneous weddings to men who were all in various measures charming, disappointing, and musically talented. I appreciated Stevens’ honesty about finding herself falling into marriages before she understood what they should be like. It felt like a gift that she would bring us along in such a pure way, into her tragedies and triumphs, both professional and personal. I Sang That… is a real pleasure to read. What an honor to float along on the melodies of Sally Stevens’ outstanding musical life!
I particularly enjoyed that Sally brings us along on the writing process of I Sang That…. When friends and colleagues of the past died, Stevens reflected on her own life and the sense that death was on its way for her someday soon, too. When she read Peter Fonda’s memoir, describing growing up around the same time as her, it reminded Stevens of so many things she’d taken for granted and forgotten to share in her writing.
When the #MeToo movement happened, it prompted Stevens to think back on her experiences with inappropriate men throughout the years. Including the reader in this process instills a unique conversational style and personality, bringing a rare intimacy that suddenly makes other memoirs feel “put on” (and by that I mean, perfected for an audience, as opposed to true). This also makes I Sang That… an excellent book for writers of all kinds to dive into, because Stevens’ writing journey reminds us that inspiration and new challenging perspectives come from all moments of life, and to keep our eyes and hearts open for them.
This memoir includes terrific photos that chronicle splendid memories from Sally’s illustrious career, as well as autographed vocal charts and newspaper articles commending her work. The incredible foreword by Burt Bacharach, where he describes her as having “traversed every area of the music business and brought much happiness” is—quite literally—just the beginning.
It’s impossible to list even a fraction of the iconic recognizable names Sally Stevens has worked with! It’s everyone from Sinatra to The Simpsons, Nat King Cole to Harry Connick Jr, Disney theme parks to the Academy Awards shows, How The West Was Won to Deadpool 2, and cinematic titans Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and Steven Spielberg. As she’s still working in the industry and has seen the business change to accommodate streaming shows and dubious interests, Stevens is able to give us insights into the differences of working, connecting, and earning money in and out of Hollywood’s unions since then.
I would enthusiastically recommend I Sang That… to everyone who enjoyed watching Mozart in the Jungle for its reflection of professional musicians’ community inner-workings and its deep adoration for the way making music together shapes our messy, magnificent world. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves show business and cares about the creative people who wake up every day to make it happen.
Sally Stevens is part of the history that has made so much of Hollywood’s “golden years” as special as it is—and she continues to be involved in some of this generation’s most exciting projects! After reading this book, one absolutely concurs with Mr Burt Bacharach’s concluding remarks in the introduction: “My journey with Sally Stevens—I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Hats off to you, Sally—you’ve done it all!”
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir / Music
Print Length: 390 pages
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