Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World

Book review by
Blair Jackson, Common Sense Media
Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World Book Poster Image
Wonderful intro to 27 musicians and their unique styles.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will learn about some of the greatest and most influential musicians and singers of the 20th century and glean much about the history of the music business, which styles of music were popular in what era, racism in America, the destructive role of drugs in artists' lives, and music as both a tool for social change and personal growth. Two CDs included in the hardcover version feature songs by each of the 27 musicians, so readers can hear what's special about each artist.

Positive Messages

Greatness comes from within. Recognizing your own talent and gifts for expression, then working hard to develop those talents, can lead to the creation of amazing art (in this case music) that can affect millions of people and truly change the course of history. Learning a musical instrument can change your life. Most people with extraordinary careers had ordinary childhoods; sometimes they were even unhappy ones. The pursuit of a singular vision can be rewarding -- financially and spiritually -- but it often comes at a steep price.


Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the musicians profiled in Legends, Icons & Rebels had to overcome various obstacles to achieve success: poverty, racism, unscrupulous managers, personal insecurity, and more. They all worked hard, stayed true to their artistic visions, and gave everything they had to unleash the creativity inside them. Still, some were vanquished by drug and alcohol abuse, and some met tragic ends in other ways.


Some discussion of racial tensions involving black performers; passing, but not graphic, references to artists' deaths by plane crashes and drugs. Also, there's a mention of Bob Marley being wounded by gunshots during an assassination attempt on his life.


Perhaps considering their young target audience, the authors elected to leave out this aspect of the rock-'n'-roll lifestyle.


Specific songs, albums, and record companies (Motown, Capitol) are mentioned throughout to provide historical detail, as is Rolling Stone magazine. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and drugs have always been part of the music business, and the great musicians in Legends, Icons & Rebels were no exception. The authors don't dwell on the subject, but, where it's relevant to the story they're telling, they mention it in a matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental way, with no specifics about what "drugs" someone used. In many cases here, an artist's substance abuse is downplayed or unmentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World is a large-format nonfiction book featuring short biographies of 27 pioneering musicians/singers from the 1920s to the present who represent a multitude of music styles, from rock 'n' roll to jazz to rhythm and blues and more. There are frank but unsensational mentions of drug and alcohol abuse by a number of these musicians as well as some sociopolitical content, as many of them were affected by racism, opposed the Vietnam War, or rebelled against other aspects of mainstream American society. The emphasis, however, is on what made each artist's music special and historically important. Two CDs included in the hardcover version give kids a chance to hear a classic track from each artist. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byindie_q January 4, 2015

Okay book not that bad but not that amazing

'Legends, Icons, & Rebel' is a book made of many short biographies. These artist are from the back then eras to even now. They give you a bri... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

LEGENDS, ICONS & REBELS: MUSIC THAT CHANGED THE WORLD offers short biographical sketches of 27 influential music pioneers of rock, soul/R&B, country, jazz, pop, and reggae. The artists range from superstars with whom kids may be familiar -- The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, and the Beach Boys -- to less well-known figures such as Curtis Mayfield, Joni Mitchell, Hank Williams, and Ella Fitzgerald. Many profiles include anecdotes about the musicians' lives growing up and the times in which they lived; each one is accompanied by an imaginative portrait by a different contributing artist. Two CDs included in the hardcover version feature a song by each musician.

Is it any good?

Legends, Icons & Rebels is a wonderful introduction to more than two dozen pioneering singers and groups who helped shape modern popular music. The book covers a tremendous range of styles and eras: seminal jazz artists (Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong); early R&B greats (Ray Charles, Louis Jordan); first-gen rock 'n' rollers (Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard); a few country legends (Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash); pop crooners (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole); influential soul sensations (Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder); two superstar 1960s groups (the Beatles and the Beach Boys); singer-songwriters (Bob Dylan, Carole King, Joni Mitchell); and the undisputed king of reggae (Bob Marley). Each enthusiastic, two-page, large-type bio has interesting anecdotes, facts, and analysis of what's special about the artist, plus a five-song playlist of recommended listening.

The writing is clear, concise, and well researched. The typography is sometimes jarring, with certain phrases emphasized in larger (and LARGER) type to bring home a point, but it makes for visually stimulating reading. Co-author Robbie Robertson, famous for leading the popular '60s/early '70s group The Band, offers brief personal remarks about each musician. The only quibble is the seemingly random order of the profiles. Had they been arranged chronologically or by genre, developments in the different styles would be more coherent.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about which styles of music in the book and on the CDs they like best. Is there a particular singer or song you find most inspiring?

  • Why do you think so many parents in the 1950s and 1960s felt threatened by rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues?

  • If you were going to write songs about your own life, what music style would you choose?

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