A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry. By Charles K. Wolfe (Vanderbilt Univ., $29.95). The broad outline of how the Grand Old Opry came to be is well-known to aficionados: On Nov. 28, 1925, Nashville radio station WSM (call letters standing for "We Shield Millions," the slogan of the station's owner, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company) broadcast a program of old-time fiddle tunes played by Uncle Jimmy Thompson, and the listener response was so enthusiastic that an institution was born. This book fleshes out that tale by tapping into oral histories contributed by the men and women who were at the microphones and in the wings. One of the author's contentions is that the citizens of Nashville itself were at first indifferent to old-time music, whose main audience lived "in the outlying rural communities . . ." And yet so many traditional musicians had migrated from the backwoods to the city that, with the help of the Opry, Nashville "emerged as the old-time music center in the 1920s."
The American Art Book (Phaidon, $39.95). Like its predecessors in this series (The Art Book, The Photography Book), this hefty volume offers full-color reproductions of masterpieces of American art, arranged alphabetically by painter or sculptor or photographer and accompanied by brief biographical-critical notes in the margins. Though hardly a work of scholarship, the book provides a chance to see magnificent work by artists as various as the little known Cecelia Beaux, the famous Edward Hopper, the undervalued Fairfield Porter and the notorious Diane Arbus.
To Keep The Waters Troubled: The Life of Ida B. Wells By Linda O. McMurry (Oxford, $30). Ida B. Wells came to prominence just after the Civil War as an anti-lynching crusader. Born a slave, she rose to the editorship of her own newspaper, the Memphis Free Speech, which she used as a forum for highly critical editorials that infuriated the white citizenry. Eventually they drove her out of town, but Wells continued her activism throughout her long and exemplary life. During the 1890s, no African American except for Frederick Douglass received more press attention than Wells. Because Wells devoted her memoirs to the second half of her life, Linda O. McMurry focuses on the first half. Also, convinced that "Wells's personality and career were rooted in the environment and experiences of her young adulthood," Wells tried to render those years in greater detail. McMurry suggests that sexism and racism combined to diminish Wells's proper place in history. She predicts that "as scholars continue to study [Wells], people will realize that it may be more appropriate to compare such recognized titans as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois to her, rather than the other way around."
The Granta Book of the American Long Story. Edited by Richard Ford (Granta, $27.50). In his introduction, Richard Ford mulls over the significance of the word "novella," ultimately finds it too confining, and chooses instead the term "long story" to describe the not-short but not novel-length tales he has collected. The title might have gone on to specify "in the 20th Century": None of the old American masters -- such as James and Melville and Crane -- is included here. Eudora Welty's "June Recital" is the first entry chronologically, and the book concludes with Edwidge Danticat's "Caroline's Wedding." In between comes Peter Taylor's "The Old Forest," with its precise delineation of regional mores: "It was not unusual in those days . . .," the narrator explains, "for a well-brought-up young man like me to keep up his acquaintance, until the very eve of his wedding, with some member of what we facetiously and somewhat arrogantly referred to as the Memphis demimonde."
CAPTION: Elie Nadelman's "Dancer"