February 2015: “Lady Sings the Blues” by Billie Holiday and William Dufty

Billie Holiday

Lit. and a Latte will celebrate National Black History Month with this ghostwritten autobiography of African American jazz legend Billie Holiday, who would have been 100 this year. The book traces Holidays life from her childhood in a Baltimore whorehouse, the nightclubs of the Harlem Renaissance, her performances with the biggest of the big band orchestras, to her struggles with racism during the Civil Rights era. Holiday’s experience is representative of the lives of many talented black women of the 20th century, all of whom had to struggle with direct racism, in addition to the more nuanced disadvantages associated with their backgrounds. To give you sample of how Holiday used music to combat prejudice, racism, and Jim Crow, here is her famous performance about lynchings in the South: “Strange Fruit”

Helpful links for “Lady Sings the Blues” (1956) by Billie Holiday

Extract from “Lady Sings the Blues” on Google Books
Purchase “Lady Sings the Blues” on Amazon
Billie Holiday on IMDB
Billie Holiday on Wikipedia

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One thought on “February 2015: “Lady Sings the Blues” by Billie Holiday and William Dufty

  • margaretperry.mc@gmail.com Post author

    Thanks for your responses!

    “What did “Lady Sings the Blues” teach you about racism and sexism?

    It reenforced much that I already knew…that women can be hardest on each other. I was a bit startled by Billie’s various comments about lesbians.
    Finally, pretty women are often an absolute pain in the ass…they often don’t like other pretty women, they can be high maintenance, petty and judgemental and according to her story, Billie–a very pretty woman–often was all of those things.

    What did you learn about Billie Holiday that you didn’t know before?

    Much of what I read I did not previously know. I did some side-reading about her, as well, after reading this selection (specifically from sources that took issue with her account…that often happens with memoires–all of us weave our memories from threads that came through the eyes of our own needles). She was quite upfront in saying that she was responsible for starting heroine. The prostitution aspects were news to me. Also, I learned that the camera menare the most important cats around.

    Did you have any favorite passages or quotes from this book?

    1.) “If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing.” p 51
    2.) I never did set very well with women. p. 118
    3.) If they’d understood my kind of singing they’d have known I couldn’t sing in a place like that. p 134
    4.) About Lena Horne: “And that pretty little thing took off from that stage like a beautiful little bird. She came running down the darkened aisles hollering for me.” p. 142
    5) People like Lena took the sting out of other little people. p. 143

    What are your overall impressions of this book?

    I found it to be very honest and raw in many areas yet manipulative and slanted in others. But that’s pretty much true of every memoire, and mine would be that way, too. I enjoyed the book. It was a good jumping off point for learning about Billie Holiday, her music and her era.”