Posted:  May 19, 2015

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the MythPublished in celebration of Holiday’s centenary, the first biography to focus on the singer’s extraordinary musical talent

When Billie Holiday stepped into Columbia’s studios in November 1933, it marked the beginning of what is arguably the most remarkable and influential career in twentieth-century popular music. Her voice weathered countless shifts in public taste, and new reincarnations of her continue to arrive, most recently in the form of singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele.

Most of the writing on Holiday has focused on the tragic details of her life—her prostitution at the age of fourteen, her heroin addiction and alcoholism, her series of abusive relationships—or tried to correct the many fabrications of her autobiography. But now, Billie Holiday stays close to the music, to her performance style, and to the self she created and put into print, on record and on stage.

Drawing on a vast amount of new material that has surfaced in the last decade, critically acclaimed jazz writer John Szwed considers how her life inflected her art, her influences, her uncanny voice and rhythmic genius, a number of her signature songs, and her legacy.

This book about Billie Holiday, takes a look at her life and the book that she wrote “Lady sings the Blues”. In that book as with some other biographies of her. Omissions about her life and people who when the book went to print did not want their name in the book for different reasons. The author of this book goes into detail how she was going to describe the men mostly in the movie business who put out her name in bad light because she would not do their film. Most of the films would have her playing a maid and she would tell them no. “That if she wanted to be a maid she would have stayed in Baltimore with her mother who was a maid”. She also did not call them yes sir or mister. You have to remember that when she was making a name for herself African- American women were not called ma'am or anything nice even a lady. If a white person was mad or just upset at an African American woman they would be called a prostitute or any other slew of names but nothing doing with being a lady regardless of who it was. The author also goes into the different band leaders that she worked with and some of the reasons she would leave. Some because she felt they could not do anything more musically to Artie Shaw where she was tired fighting with establishments about accommodations even when they traveled in the south. The finale blow came in New York at the Lincoln Hotel when the owner asked her to take the freight elevator so that customers would not think people of color were guests. The author also mentions that when FDR was in office there was a bill in congress that would make lynching a federal crime. This bill did not pass and did not get the President's support either, she does make reference to this bill which did not sit well with people in print. So of course not everything said about would be truthful. Of course musicians, bandleaders, producers and fellow singers thought highly of her and especially Frank Sinatra who went to her more than once to watch her sing and to talk to her about how to use your voice to deliver the song to make it yours. This was a good book with a lot of information much more than what I put in this review. Overall a good book. I got this book from netgalley.  I give this 4 stars.

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