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With Billie [Hardcover]

Julia Blackburn
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
RRP: 17.99
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Book Description

7 April 2005
Julia Blackburn's brilliant and haunting new book is a life of Billie Holiday told in the voices of those who knew her. During the 1970s a young woman called Linda Kuehl, planning to write a biography of Billie, recorded interviews with more than 150 people. Kuehl died in 1978 and her book never came out, but her recordings survived to provide the raw material for this extraordinary account of the life of America's First Lady of Jazz. Billie Holiday is usually portrayed as a tragic victim of her own vices. These intimate stories - told by piano players and dancers, pimps and junkies, a record producer, a theatre critic and two very different federal narcotics agents - give us a much deeper picture of her personality, at the same time as illuminating the dangerous and complex world she inhabited. Listening to their voices, we witness scenes from Billie's chaotic childhood. We see her when she first arrives in Harlem at the age of fourteen, and we follow her through her rise to fame and into the notoriety that came so close on its heels. Here she is in her dressing room, casually naked, her pubic hair dyed red, joking with the boys in the band. Here she is dancing with the federal narcotics agent who would later be involved in her arrest. Here she is knitting a red sweater for her piano player and then changing her mind and turning it into a jacket for her Chihuahua instead. Of course Billie's friends and lovers and fellow musicians talk about her troubles and her addictions, but they also have a lot to say about her warmth and her courage, and the ones who were really close to her understood that although she had a lot of men and drugs and booze in her life, all that really mattered was the singing.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; First edition edition (7 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224075896
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224075893
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,317,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


At last, a portrait of of the artist and person called Billie Holiday. This extraordinary book completes her story -- Mike Figgis

This addition to the tide of Billie Holiday books is extremely welcome -- Toni Morrison

Book Description

'Julia Blackburn has an extraordinary talent for thinking herself into other worlds...So vivid are her conjurings of lives lived elsewhere or long ago, you begin to suspect she sees ghosts' - Evening Standard --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Put Together 14 May 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book simply consists of interviews with a lot of people who were close to Billie Holiday. The interviews are edited with sympathy and enough to make them coherent, which is all that is needed. The author adds little or no comment, and none is needed, draw your own conclusions. But as well as giving a vivid picture of a great singer it also gives a picture of the world she lived in, and interesting vignettes of other characters like Lester Young, Ben Webster and many others.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" for Billie Holiday fans 11 Aug 2009
By E. Ford
I rejected this book after the first chapter. It starts with the author(and naked prostitutes)at a party - when she was 13. I didn't believe it and thought the rest of the book would also be lies and sensational. Then I read "The three of us" which is about Julie Blackburn's family. This is a seriously messed up family!!! and a good read.

When I picked up "With Billie" again I trusted and believed the author because I understood her background. In "With Billie" the characters speak for themselves. Everything is referenced and the author only indicates where there are inconsistencies in the stories but she doesn't tell you what to believe.

There is a transcript from a court appearance in which you are able to "hear" Billie Holiday speak her own words. It's brilliant and I cant recommend it more highly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Billie 26 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good book but lots of conflicting stories that are par for the course with BIllie Holliday books. Worth a read.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read This One 28 July 2005
By Terrance H. Heath - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've been a Billie Holiday fan since I was in my teens, but I'd never read a biography of her. I avoided the "Lady Sings the Blues" autobiography, after hearing how much of it was just plain wrong or made up. And I was never able to decide which of the existing bios to read, until I saw this one in my Amazon recommendations. After reading the description, and realizing that it was taken from interviews of people who actually lived and worked with Billie -- and loved her -- I knew this would be the one I read.

This book isn't so much about Billie as it is haunted by her. The interviews construct a rough timeline of her life, but still drift in and out of various periods. You get a sense of Billie. You catch a glimpse of her here and there. Once in awhile her voice breaks through, so you hear it clearly. The overall effect is somewhat ghostly. And at the end, when the picture of her last days begins to come into sharp focuse, she fades away again.

This is a book written by a Billie Holiday fan, for Billie Holiday fans, that presents her both through the eyes of those who knew the flesh and blood woman, and through the eyes of someone captivated by the legend. There are fascinating details throughout, and author manages to fill in the holes just enough to hold the story together. Even the footnotes are worth reading.

Some have complained about there not being enough pictures of Billie in the book. The truth is that this book should really be a companion to the recently released "Billie Holiday: The Ultimate Collection" box set, because most of Linda Khuel's pictures (Khuel did the original interviews before her suicide) ended up on the DVD portion of that package. (Another must for a Holiday fan.)

As one reviewer said, it's an addictive read. I found it impossible to put down, and like someone in the audience at one of Billie's concerts, in the end I was left wanting more.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ADDICTIVE READ 23 May 2005
By Thomas Adrahtas - Published on Amazon.com
Julia Blackburn's biographical WITH BILLIE is a fascinating slant on the legendary singer. The author did a brilliant job editing the original interviews conducted by Linda Kuehl, leaving this work vibrant with the voices of Lady Day's contemporaries. It is more oral history than biography, and the author never imposes her own voice unnecessarily.

I was literally sad when I completed reading the book,the ultimate litmus test of a work's enjoyability. Blackburn shows Holiday vividly, her genius, her deep flaws, her humanity.

This book is a must-read for fans of Lady Day, jazz, or female singers everywhere.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful look... 14 May 2005
By Bellagrace - Published on Amazon.com
This book offers a new and insightful look into the tangled, intriguing life of Lady Day. However, it only has ONE photo of the legend in the entire book. I would like to have seen more photos, copies of documents mentioned, and other visual aids included. That's about the only negative thing about this book. A must have for the Billie collector.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book... 4 Mar 2006
By Offsideher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
That deserves a good review. A couple reviews posted on here focus on Billie Holliday and her lifestyle, it puzzles me why they would even read the book, if you hated the woman so much -- nevertheless, they insisted on sharing their opinion of the person, not the book --so a lot of negative comments that aren't deserved get heaped onto the book --

First off, I don't know if you can fully appreciate this book unless you've listened to Billie Holliday extensively and have a cursory knowledge of what happened to her...

Just picking up this book and plodding through it -- I think will leave you frustrated -- if you don't know which years, were her best recording years and when life started to go horribly wrong for her then you lose many details that are given away in the book -- if you haven't listened to several different recordings of the same song, you won't understand what makes this woman so talented, because by all accounts most people would find her voice unique -- but not classified under the definition of a spectacular voice -- so the fact that she never sung the same song the same way, twice and that her phrasing and timing is one of a jazz instrumentalist, not a singer... you'll end up wondering why Blackburn wasted her time on an alcoholic drug addicted and abused woman.

In the end, the book will paint a faded picture of a woman -- her fears -- unrealized dreams -- and her music will fill in the rest. If you've ever listened to out takes of Holliday talking between takes -- you would suspect she was a pretty rough woman -- I found this book shed some light on her compassionate side... the fact that if you were her friend, she would give you the shirt off her back.

Through interviews, layers of assurance are slowly built up -- and what is left is not a laundry list of facts -- because many of the people interviewed were old -- or junkies -- or drunks -- so sometimes things are hazy... but they still convey the spirit of the woman -- they know she was a good person, that was caught in an endless cycle of booze, drugs and abuse, she just couldn't rise above it --

I think the most fascinating thing about this book, why it ranks so highly in my opinion -- is the discovery that this giant of her industry feared the same thing that the people that live in everyday America do -- and her desires and dreams were not far from the person that goes to a cubicle everyday --in the end, and what makes her life seem somewhat tragic -- she realized too late that all that matters are the people we love and those that love us back.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Window Back In Time 5 April 2012
By Randy Remote - Published on Amazon.com
Based on interviews from 1971 with people who knew Billie (mostly musicians), this book is somewhat lacking in cohesion, but offers a good historical narrative of the life and times of Billie, and more broadly, the Harlem community and black jazz culture of the 30's, 40's and 50's. Sometimes the subject matter veers away from Lady Day, and centers more on the speaker's life, which may be of less interest, but overall, where else are you going to hear directly from those who knew her personally? Each chapter centers on a different interviewee, sometimes quoting, often paraphrasing. The book also makes it clear that Ms. Holiday was hounded by the federal lawmen ostensibly for her drug use, but more because she was a celebrity, and that harassment was part of what broke her spirit in the end. A worthwhile read, although some photos would have been nice.
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