Like many others, I love Fred Astaire. There was even an international conference devoted to him in Scotland this year. He was one of the 20th century’s greatest dancers. He was also one of its greatest singers, although he had a rather thin, reedy voice. He danced and sang his way into our hearts through a series of films from the 1930s through the 1960s, then on television through the 1970s. In his biographical essay, Fred Astaire (Yale Univ., $22), Joseph Epstein presents a thumbnail sketch of the life of this extraordinary man. Much of the book focuses on Astaire and his partners, beginning with Ginger Rogers, with whom Epstein believes he did greater work than he did with other dancers such as Audrey Hepburn, Cyd Charisse, and Judy Garland.
Country Music: The Masters (Sourcebooks, $49.99) is a love song by Marty Stuart, the great country singer, to the extraordinary figures that make, and have made, country music America’s music. From the moving final portrait of Johnny Cash to photographs of Little Jimmie Dickens and Merle Haggard, you have an invaluable document. There are pictures of Elvis Presley’s guitar and of Minnie Pearl’s hat; you can see the handwritten lyrics of Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Everywhere you look there is something that adds to your knowledge of the history of country music and its contributors. Also included are a CD containing 21 songs and a DVD of a music video of Stuart’s “Dark Bird.”