Recently, I asked various musicians to discuss books that they remembered fondly. I also encouraged them to mention books that have influenced, intrigued or inspired them. While we talked, I listened closely for a glimmer of the passion that guided my subjects' professional and creative lives, and for a thread that tied individual pasts to present work. Here is a selection of what I heard.

Nell Carter

Tony Award-winning singer/actress

I've always been an avid reader. As a child, I was totally into biographies. I read about Helen Keller and felt I could understand that little person, the person inside her. Maybe I loved biographies because I always wanted to be someone else, before I learned in show business I could play someone else. I read mysteries, and thought of becoming a lawyer. I would make the world all right and put anyone who ever hurt me in jail. I would be Perry Mason in a dress, with the back cut low, and show up in court in the hat from "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and I was gorgeous. The only book about a musician I remember reading in school was about Marian Anderson. I would say now, for all children of all races, colors and ages, find a book about Duke Ellington. He struggled. He came into the world with strikes against him. But he was a gentleman, well-educated, and a composer. A wonderful man, he was called "The Duke."

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenburg

Violinist

About 10 years ago, I wrote a book for children called Nadja: On My Way. I wrote about the teacher who taught me to hear myself, and what to listen for; about pursuing excellence by having high goals from the start; and about my approach to performing, which is: The time to be careful is when you prepare. But, in performing, I say, take a chance, go for it! As a child, reading Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth made me feel anything is possible and that I could accomplish anything! . . . I'd love to see a book about the enormous power of music to change someone's life.

Eddie Fisher

Singer

Joke books; that's what I read as a kid, because I started singing so early, and all of my book learning took a back seat. Have you ever heard of the Catskills' Jennie Grossinger? She gave me a dictionary when I was first up in the mountains. I still have that dictionary, the greatest present anyone could give. And after that, I read Six Who Changed the World, and that's the book that made the biggest impression on me. Territorial Imperative was another important one. I became a tremendous reader, although in the last five years I haven't read as much. I've been tied up working on my book, Been There, Done That. . . . A children's book? Oh, no. I've never thought about writing a children's book, not in a million years. . . . I don't know . . . maybe that's an interesting idea.

Pete Seeger

Banjo-player, folksinger, writer

I come from a book-reading family. At age 7 I was completely captured by Rolf in the Woods, by Ernest T. Seton, and that was when my interest in politics began. I went on to read all Seton's books. He held up the American Indian as a role model of brave, honest, sharing people. Six, seven years later, I read Pages of a Worker's Life, W.C. Forster's book about how he rode freight trains as a kid and worked at one industry then another. Then Thoreau's Walden, which suited me to a tee; and left-wing books, historical books and novels, and every new Howard Fast book, as soon as they came out -- Freedom Road, and so on.

Harolyn Blackwell

Opera singer

I read Jenny Lind: Swedish Opera Singer in third grade -- my first introduction to opera -- and though I didn't realize it at the time, that book would turn out to be very influential. Now, as an opera singer myself, I am singing much of Jenny Lind's repertoire. I could relate to her because I, too, was terribly shy as a child, except when I sang. I think Dorothy Maynor, founder of the Harlem School for the Arts, would make a wonderful subject for a biography for young people; and I would highly recommend the Leontyne Price retelling of Aida, including her "storyteller's note." . . . I'd like to write a book for young children, our future audience, on how to behave in a theater, about basic decorum; a book that would be funny, delightful, but get the point across.

Ysaye Barnwell

Singer for Sweet Honey in the Rock

I was intimidated by books as a child. My parents and their friends were older, and the books I received as gifts were often for adults, sometimes in French. So the books I read were not the typical children's books. I remember the works of black historians, and Langston Hughes's Sweet Flypaper of Life, a small thin book with photographs by Roy DeCarava. I've always preferred having books of my own to read slowly and thoroughly, and so that I can write notes on the pages. Several illustrated books helped me see the possibility that my book, No Mirrors in My Nana's House, might work as a children's book: Ntozake Shange's I Live in Music with illustrations by Romare Bearden, and Maya Angelou's book with Jean-Michel Basquiat. I would recommend Go Down Moses, and a new book for children, A Band of Angels, by Deborah Hopkinson.

Corey Harris

Blues musician

A book I thought was really cool was Watership Down. It was amazing the way the author created the story of the rabbits and their society and how it mirrored human societies. I just finished a great biography of Art Tatum, Too Marvelous for Words. I loved Body and Soul, a collection of short biographies of Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Stevie Wonder and others. I'd like to see a book for kids that gives a general overview of American music, and then specifically discusses the styles and genres of historic black music and its influence on music today. For instance, if a kid likes Will Smith, chances are that kid doesn't know much about the heritage behind Will Smith's music, the origins of rap, hip hop and so on. I think it would be fun to do a children's book about different instruments in a band and how musicians collaborate. Something that would give a child an idea of instruments and their roles in different groups. That would be my music book for children.

Roseanne Cash

Singer-songwriter

The "Little House" books sparked my lifelong love of historical biographies, and probably contributed to the somewhat measured and protective style of parenting I developed with my own children. I enjoyed reading this series to my youngest daughter, who is now crazy about Harry Potter, of course. I don't particularly like reading about music, but I do like reading about the lives of musicians. I wish there were a series of biographies written specifically for young people on all kinds of musicians. Could be titled From Mozart to Beck! For instance, I'd love to see a biography of Miles Davis for 13-year-olds; but I wonder how an author would reconcile genius coupled with a drug addiction and then explain this to a child? Penelope Jane is a children's book I've written. . . . I found writing for children in verse form very different from writing songs, specifically in the way I needed to think about meter and rhyme.

Karen Greenfield is a Washington writer.