on 12 June 2003
Having always loved the music of Billie Holliday, I was on the look out for a biography as her life is as interesting as her music, if not more so. Her tough childhood formed her personality which both turned her talent into fame and also led to her eventual slide and tragic early death. This book is must for all music fans whether blues is your poison or not!!
on 18 August 2010
clarke's "wishing on the moon" is a superb account of the life of billie. sympathetic but not fawning, understanding but not afraid to point out her deep failings as a human being - some quite extraordinary poor judgements are highlighted by the author.
it is rather dense but this is unavoidable when ranging through the harlem club scene and its remarkable musicians, through the situation in the recording business in the early 40's and when everywhere the complexities of billies psyche are under examination.
clarke also generously points to other written works that would be of interest to the jazz buff. this book really sets the whole thing straight about who really loved billie (the few) and who used her (the many) but never does it shower pity on her, as so many books, articles, record sleeves and TV biogs have. a habit that weakens her legacy, in my view.
she is the greatest jazz singer of them all. this book shows you why.
on 6 March 2013
This biography is clearly well researched, it contains a wealth of detail and the author appears to have read widely around his subject. He sets the scene by describing some of the history of slavery in Maryland, then focusses on Baltimore where Billie Holiday was brought up, before going on to describe her life, which was undoubtedly deeply affected by racism as well as her own difficult personal circumstances.
It seems strange therefore, that the book, unlike most biographies, contains no bibliography, no references and no footnotes. For a work that is in other ways scholarly, these are grave omissions, and make reading it difficult and sometimes annoying. Donald Clarke refers frequently to books he has read on his subject, but fails to list them so that his readers can consult them. He clutters up the text with small details that would be better footnoted, to keep the text clear and relevant, and also includes details of the sources of his evidence, so it is impossible to look up a reference without scouring the text first. This means that one has to hold a great many details - names, places, dates, etc. - in one's head in order to understand the narrative.
Unfortunately, something also seems to have gone wrong with the printing - a large percentage of the letter 'i's in the book do not have dots on them, particularly in the first half of the book. In some words with two 'i's, one has a dot and the other hasn't, which is distracting. There are also quite a few gaps of about 6-7 characters for no apparent reason, leaving the reader wondering if something is missing.
Despite all these annoyances, it was worth persevering with Donald Clarke's sympathetic and well-informed biography, which gives a very detailed account of the life of Lady Day and an investigation of the motivations and feelings of the great singer herself.