by: Robert O'Meally
publisher: Arcade Publishing, Inc., New York
ISBN number: 1-55970-147-1
WHAT THE COVER READS:
Dead at forty-four. Killed by a lifetime of fast living with hard men and hard drugs.
Singer of a troubled song learned from harsh firsthand experience: Billie Holiday, also known as Lady Day.
As a figure of trouble, Lady Day has secured a place in the pantheon of American icons. Pop history, fed by her own autobiography, has canonized her in print and film in the image of the star-as-victim, the heroin addict and bedraggled dupe of a succession of husband/pimp/managers who kept her singing to support themselves. But she was also a back-talker, a fighter quick with her fists. She could be hard and violent-not just the victim but a brutal victimizer herself She also sustained long-standing friendships with people of great gentleness, including fellow musicians Bobby Tucker and Lester Young. And she had so many looks, moods, and attitudes that pictures taken of her during the same session or appearance show completely different women-all of the faces were Lady Day's. As always, the truth is far more complex than the myth. The tragic image is but one of her many faces, and Lady Day lives as a great-according to many, the greatest-jazz singer of our time.
There were other jazz singers with superior vocal equipment, wider range, bigger volume, better technique. But Billie Holiday's voice, with its span of little more than an octave, could grip you so that - to paraphrase one of her songs - you would never be the same again. Holiday managed to turn her limited voice into an asset, an instrument of irresistible power. Her interpretations of songs were so radical that in a sense she was a co-composer of them. Sometimes she turned songs so completely around, altering original tempos, moods, and melodies, that in her hands the meaning of the lyrics was either modified or totally upended. Her revisions of songs such as "What a Little Moonlight Can Do", "Crazy He Calls Me", and "Good Morning Heartache" have become the definitive versions.
Drawing from voluminous never-before-published material, this fresh, pictorial biography of Billie Holiday presents a rich, personal, and intimate view of the great American jazz singer. Tracing her tumultuous life from her early days, through her debut as a singer in the good-time houses and speakeasies of Baltimore's Fell's Point in the late twenties, and on to her rise to fame and tragedy, Robert O'Meally reveals many hitherto unknown aspects of Lady Days artistic evolution and claims her proper place in the history of American jazz. In this lavishly illustrated book, the author enables us to discover the full range and complexity of this fascinating artist, the many faces of this "dark lady of the sonnets."
Thirty years after her death, perhaps she will finally be recognized for the greatness that is hers.