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Highlights Archives

New 'Badger Biographies' Hit the Shelves


Les Paul and a bevy of guitars in a sound studio (photo courtesy of the Les Paul Foundation)

The life stories of two extraordinary Wisconsinites come to life in a pair of publications in the popular Wisconsin Historical Society Press series, "Badger Biographies," a set of kid-friendly books dedicated to elementary and middle-school readers with an interest in Wisconsin history. The Society Press now proudly introduces the biographies of two important 20th-century figures, musical legend Les Paul (pictured above) and women's professional baseball league star, Joyce Westerman.

Les Paul, the 'Wizard of Waukesha'

In Les Paul: Guitar Wizard, author Bob Jacobson introduces young readers to the story of Les Paul, the legendary "Wizard of Waukesha," who pioneered the solid body electric guitar, multi-track recording, and many other musical inventions. Fascinated since boyhood with musical technology, the young Les moved from experimenting with his mother's player piano and phonograph to developing his own amplifier and tinkering with crystal radios.

The cover of "Les Paul: Guitar Wizard"

After leaving his hometown of Waukesha at age 17 to pursue a musical career — a decision his mother supported — the budding jazz guitarist lived in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, in each city finding a new audience and new musical partnerships. A regular on the radio, Les became a fixture in early television, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, and later, he had a show of his own with his wife and partner Mary Ford. Along the way he overcame numerous physical challenges, including recovery from electric shock and rehabilitation after a horrific car accident — both of which threatened his musical career. And yet, Les Paul pushed musical technology forward more than any other musician of the 20th century.

This Grammy Hall of Fame inductee died in 2009, making "Les Paul: Guitar Wizard" a timely addition to the series. This lively story is rounded out with sidebars on radio call letters and how an electric guitar works, a full discography and more than 60 historic photographs.

Joyce Westerman, a Pioneer in Women's Professional Baseball

In Joyce Westerman: Baseball Hero, author Bob Kann tells the story of a young girl who grew up on a farm in Pleasant Prairie. As a kid, Joyce cleaned the barn, picked vegetables, and helped her father cut down trees. But what she really loved to do was play baseball. She played at recess and with friends whenever she could, and she even joined her aunt's softball team when she was just 12 years old.

The cover of "Joyce Westerman: Baseball Hero"
When Joyce graduated from high school, she went to work at a factory in Kenosha. But then World War II broke out, and chewing-gum tycoon P. K. Wrigley started a women's baseball league to replace men's baseball while players were away fighting the war. Women from all over the country tried out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Only a few were good enough to make the cut, and Joyce was one of them. For eight years, she traveled around the US playing ball, even winning the league championship in her last season.

This new title in the "Badger Biographies" series tells the story of a woman who lived her dream of becoming a professional athlete. At a time when women had few opportunities for careers, and next to none in professional sports, Joyce and her teammates proved to the world that women have what it takes.

:: Posted January 23, 2012

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