I have a deep love and respect for some of the most influential female jazz and soul singers of our time, like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae, Lena Horne, and last but not least, Billie Holiday. In LADY SINGS THE BLUES, Holiday recalls some of the most resonant memories of her turbulent past--the good, the [mostly] bad and the [frequently] ugly. From the very start, Billie Holiday (birth name Eleanora Fagan) born to thirteen year old Sadie Fagan and sixteen year old Clarence Holiday, had a very difficult life. The young girl saw much in the rough streets of Baltimore, Maryland, as a call girl, a jailbird and a spitfire with a vey hot temper.
Billie didn't even consider a career in singing, and her introduction as a vocalist was (perhaps) accidental, but definitely fate. Her descent into drug addiction, jailtime, turbulent relationships (with both men and women) and the great antipathy she faced in the storm of racism, jealousy and gossip made for a very adverse life, on and off of the stage. Some of the greatest moments of her career are documented here, as told to writer William Dufty. We learn the stories behind songs like "Strange Fruit," that are songs she created and truly lived and experienced, before setting them to lyric and melody. Though, I never heard Billie Holiday's speaking voice, I heard it throughout this piece, and I can see why it was brought to the screen, as a film. I haven't seen it, so I honestly have no idea how well it translated as a movie, with Diana Ross. Though, I have heard it was fantastic.
There is also a companion CD, that goes with the memoir, to mark the 50th anniversary of its original release (1956-2006). Perhaps that's why I had to take one star away from the package, as a whole. You really can't read a book like LADY SINGS THE BLUES and then hear other artists covering the songs that Billie really created. There is no comparison, even though musicians like Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds are featured on the album (doing a respectable job of STRANGE FRUIT). It's just not the same. Yet, if the CD was excluded from this 50th anniversary reissue, I would give the book (on its own) five stars, without hesitation. Highly reccomended!