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Singer, composer, actress, lover, wife, writer, pleasure seeker, drug addict, icon, commodity, myth and mystery: Billie Holiday is still one of the most famous jazz vocalists of all time. But Holiday's image - the gifted torch singer with insatiable appetites for food, sex, alcohol and drugs - is not the full story.
Farah Jasmine Griffin's enchanting investigation of Holiday, her world and how she is remembered, at last fully liberates Lady Day from the tragic songstress myth. Griffin argues that the stereotype of a black woman who can always take center stage to command an audience because of her incredible ability to feel, but not to think, continues to hide the real Holiday from public view. Instead of a mindless "natural" with incredible talent but no discipline, Griffin's Holiday is a jazz virtuoso whose passion and technique made every song she sang forever hers. Instead of being helpless against the racism, sexism and poverty that dominated her life, Holiday is an artist, willing to pay a tremendous price to change the sound of jazz forever. And far from being a victim of overwhelming obstacles, Lady Day is an independent spirit whose greatest legacy is that all hurdles can be overcome, whatever the odds.
"Readers should note that this is not a straightforward biography of Holiday (1915-59); it is more an invitation to discover a view of the singer grounded not in attention-grabbing headlines and sensationalism but in reality and, perhaps most importantly, in how Holiday's music spoke to listeners and celebrated and reflected their lives. Emotionally and intellectually, Griffin (English, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Who Set You Flowin'; Stranger in the Village) demonstrates a true fealty to Holiday's artistic achievements. Using several facets, including social and political commentary, poetry, and personal experiences, she reveals Holiday as a real person rather than a mixture of the myths and images created by managers, critics, and others who held sway over her, often not having Holiday's best interests at heart...[Griffin's book proves] to be an excellent antidote to the often ridiculous material that has been written about Lady Day over the years."—Library Journal