on 15 July 2007
One can read this book simply as a fascinating life story, and as a savage indictment of racism, sexism, the grinding misery of poverty, sharp practice in the music business and a plea for greater understanding of the plight of addicts. Published in 1956, and co-written with William Duffy, Billie Holiday speaks candidly of sexual abuse, being confined to institutions, her struggle with heroin addiction, and her awareness of being black before the rise of civil rights and black power, is particularly interesting. So are the observations of celebrity- and there is a distinct tendency to underplay her encounters with other famous people. But Billie Holiday never descends to self pity or wallowing in victim-status. Open about her faults, objective about the lives of the prison warders and Narcotics Squad officers that she encounters. Billie Holiday claimed that records gave her little royalties, it was the sheer grind of never ending live performances that earned her enough money to survive and that is depicted without glamour.Billie, or Lady Day to her fans, also detested hypocrisy from any quarter so was not afraid to be confrontational. Her abortive film career is also refelcted upon. The book also details her own relationship with the classic 'Strange Fruit' -about a Klu Klux Klan lynching and how audiences misinterpreted the number as an erotic love song. The background to her other standards such as 'God Bless The Child' are explained. The book ends abruptly in 1956. She was to live until 1959, and is said to have died with 75 cents in the bank.
on 1 January 2011
Published in 1956 and ghost-written by William Dufty, Billie Holiday's autobiography "Lady Sings the Blues" was later made into an Oscar-nominated film and has perpetuated some of the myths surrounding Holiday's eventful life. But while Dufty may be ghost-writer, make no mistake that this is Billie in her own words. The streetwise phrases, the patois, the slang, it's all there. What emerges is a distinctive narrative voice. It is perhaps a cliche to say it reads like a diary, but more than any other autobiography I have read there's a real closeness, intimacy, and a complete lack of holding back.
So what, if these are Holiday's words, was Dufty's role? A writer and editor at the New York Post, Dufty was married to Billie's friend Maely and the book was written from conversations with the singer at the Duftys' New York apartment (as well as from previous interviews.) But it's so clearly Billie that you almost forget Dufty's involvement beyond editing and fashioning it into a presentable, readable state (but Dufty does deserve major credit for bringing the book to life.)
Billie comes across as tough and streetwise but with a heart of gold. There may be factual inaccuracies along the way (her mother and father are not believed to have married, and were a little older than the book states) but the voice is so vivid and absorbing. "Lady Sings the Blues" takes us from the poverty of her Baltimore childhood through her spell in a Catholic reformatory institution after she was molested as a child to the bright lights but harsh realities of Harlem, where Billie found herself in jail for prostitution and then became a surprise star on the Harlem club scene.
We learn all about the advent of her singing career, tempered by episodes of horrifying racism, ill-fated relationships, and heroin addiction that, after her one-year jail term in 1947-48, cost her lucrative spots in New York night clubs. In between there are numerous delightful episodes with a surprise cast of characters including Clark Gable, Sarah Vaughan, and Lana Turner, and asides about her views on drug addiction and the healthcare system of America compared to Europe. The chapter about her European tour in 1954 is one of the book's most heart-warming and heart-breaking at once; here is a woman filled with joy and excitement about going to Europe and finding herself genuinely surprised and delighted by the positive reception she gets, the warm-hearted fans, the knowledgeable critics, and the newspapers that do not skew her words.
It's a book I couldn't put down. Vivid and full of life to the last, it seems to echo Billie's policy of dusting herself off and carrying on. There's no preaching or self-pitying, and while the story is often unbearably tragic, Billie herself never comes across as a tragic figure. She's tough, she's smart, she's funny, but she's never tragic or miserable. In the end, it's a pretty inspirational story. The fact that she died only three years after its publication adds an extra poignant note to proceedings. It's difficult to get cold hard facts about a life as tangled and shrouded in mystery and myth as Billie Holiday's, but "Lady Sings the Blues" is a wonderful companion to her music and, with an enlightening introduction and short essay on the picks of her discography by critic David Ritz, this 50th anniversary edition is the way to go.
on 23 November 2001
I have just finished reading the incredible life story of Billie Holiday. It was a very dramatic account of her life and the tribulations that she suffered throughout. Even if your not a fan, you will find this compelling reading. It also mentions other celebraties and the relationship she had with them. The only thing I would say is that I felt that there was great chucks missing of her life and this was a summary, it's not a critism just an observation.
I hope you enjoy it.
on 29 May 2012
This book is a wonderful read! Billie Holiday was a strong woman and an incredbile performer and songwriter. She lived at an exciting and harsh time... She tells about her life in her own words and that to me, is what makes it truly brilliant. I have read the book in a couple of days; I couldn't put it down, the writing is marvelous!
I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it either for hardcore Billie fans or as a casual sort of read!
on 28 October 2012
You have to be a bit of a Billie fan to buy the book, and it is a well documented, heartfelt account of her life, tragically cut short despite her efforts to stay clean of drugs. The book charts her childhood, brought up by her mother whom she adored, an absentee father from whom she inherited her love of blues and music generally. The book is written in the first person narrative, and she is honest and forthright about her mistakes, exploited by unscrupulous agents as her fame grew and a successful European tour provided new audiences to appreciate her worth, and should have provided the basis for the financial security she had always needed, sadly the money came and went all too quickly
I enjoyed the book, and would have no hesitation in recommending it
on 12 March 2014
An enjoyable read. A powerful story, conveying a very interesting life. I particularly enjoyed details of Lady's early life. My only criticism would be that it slightly "glosses over" some of the more unsavoury aspects such as the racism suffered and the drug abuse problems. Yes, they were mentioned, but I did not feel they were "graphic" enough.
on 25 December 2014
I LOVE BILLIE HOLIDAY. I HAVE HER MUSIC TOO.
but for the time being I'm afraid to read her bio. (cover wonderful artwork). she had such a hard life. I will read it when the time is ripe.
I'm even afraid to listen to her music. (strange fruit...) the blacks suffered enourmously, much injustice, violence and death. even now. I understand the black man who killed two white cops and have the opinion that he deserves lenient treatment by the judges. (how about the white cops or whites in general who killed blacks or mistreated them? were they sentenced adequately? I doubt it....)
THERE STILL A LOT OF RACISM ALL OVER THE WORLD AND NO JUSTICE!!!
(and "curious" enough: why is elvis the king of rock'n'roll? without black music > no elvis!! at least michael jackson (who curiously enough turned white, he was a wonderfúl handsome young man before his operations...) is the king of pop!!