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Lenny Kaye: Reviving Crooner Russ Columbo

'You Call it Madness' by Lenny Kaye.
'You Call it Madness' by Lenny Kaye.
Musician and writer Lenny Kaye sings in the NPR studio.
John Guardo, NPR News /
/
Musician and writer Lenny Kaye sings in the NPR studio.

In the 1930s, the crooner was king. America was in the midst of one of its most romantic musical periods, and velvety-voiced singers like Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee serenaded and seduced the country.

One wildly popular crooner of the era was Russ Columbo. Virtually forgotten today, Columbo rivaled Crosby and Vallee as the top crooning heartthrob and was hailed as the "Romeo of Radio." A warm baritone and suave good looks helped Columbo launch a career in radio and film, but while on the verge of stardom, he died in a violent accident, at the age of 26.

In his new book You Call it Madness: The Sensuous Song of the Croon, musician and writer Lenny Kaye brings Columbo back into the spotlight. Kaye, who is also the guitarist for singer and poet Patti Smith, spoke to NPR's Linda Wertheimer about Columbo and the art of the croon.

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