No singer has been more mythologized and more misunderstood than jazz legend Billie Holiday, who helped to create much of the mystique herself with her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues - and this authentic biography sets the record straight. Donald Clarke was given unrivaled access to a treasure trove of interviews from the 1970s with those who knew Lady Day in all stages of her short, tragic life - from her childhood in the streets and good-time houses of Baltimore, through the early days of success in New York and the years of fame, to her tragic decline and death at the age of 44. This biography separates fact from fiction to reveal the true Billie Holiday.
©1994 by Donald Clarke; (P)1997 by Blackstone Audiobooks
"A thoroughly riveting account of Holiday and her milieu." (New York Newsday)
"May be the most thoroughly valuable of the many books on Holiday." (The New York Times Book Review)
I enjoyed this book very much. Lady was a fascinating person. The only problem with the book (to me) was that there were too many details about recording sessions. I don't really care who played drums on which song at which session. However, the rest of the book was great. The narrator was perfect for the material. The language in the book can be pretty salty so be advised if listening out loud. All in all a good bio.
Normally I wouldn't comment on other reviews. Opinions are opinions, after all. But, in this case, I feel it's worthwhile.
First off, with regard to the discographical information. This is a book about a musician. You're going to get information about who she played with. It matters to the story because it puts Holliday's recordings in context. In the case of Billie Holiday, I think it's especially important because singers were often seen as something less than musicians prior to Holiday changing the game. To know the level of musicians she associated with tells us that they thought of her as a peer, not merely a singer. At any rate, I hardly feel like this information is over done or over bearing. The material is always presented in the context of the narrative. It's not like we're just presented with lists of dates and names.
Secondly, that the narrator Anna Fields is affecting a "black" accent (whatever that is supposed to be) is absurd. Listen to a clip of Ms. Fields reading anything else. What you're hearing is her voice. I find it to be perfectly pleasant for the material. Different strokes and all that, but I don't see this one at all.
To the third point, that it is sometimes difficult to follow who is talking about whom, this is a point I will agree with. However, the author states in his introduction, he's had to rely heavily on transcripts of interviews made by someone else twenty years prior where only the answers were recorded. It stands to reason there'd be some confusion in what is already a pretty confusing story. Maybe it reads better, maybe it's the writing.
At any rate, I found this book to be pretty engrossing. Holiday's story is very complicated, much by her own doing, and this book makes a good attempt to cut through the myth and get to the truth. Clarke does a good job balancing Holiday the artist and her personal life, as you really can't have one without the other. I do wonder, as I commented earlier, if this wouldn't be an easier read than listen due to the convoluted nature of much of the source material. But I can still recommend this to anyone with an interest in the great Lady Day.
Part of the reason why I chose this audiobook is because it's narrated by Anna Fields. I could listen to her read the phone book! I first heard her narrate The Wizard of Oz and loved her elegant, old-fashioned diction. One user complained that a white narrator shouldn't be reading a book that involves so many quotes from African Americans, including Lady Day. And he's got a point. Ideally, this biography should be read by an African American. Nevertheless, I gave Field's performance the top rating because once again, she did such a stellar job.
Donald Clarke convinces with this fresh, unsentimental account of Billie Holiday as a woman endowed with unique grace, yet sadly caught in a pattern of abuse since an early age. The author speaks of her beauty as a jazz performer and a person, but avoids glorifying her or censoring her life's story. While much is said about her contributions to music and culture, a lot of the biography also details her unhealthy relationship with men and drugs. I found "Wishing on the Moon: The Life and Times of Billie Holiday" a complex, well-informed portrait of the singer and remained fascinated from start to finish.
I have found this book to jump all over the place. I have lost track of who is saying what about whom. I am only 4 hours into it, am lost and at the moment cannot listen further.
The narration: why have a white woman trying to speak in a black accent??
See my comments above.
I learned a lot...that she was so loved by musicians...unique and open unless she was playing the role the public expected of her, known for her laugh, one of the boys, someone who never blamed anyone for her addictions. Espoused BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL well before its' time. I interspersed reading the book with her music. Heartbreaking but she had such strength!
"Incredibly in depth biography."
An extremely detailed and often harrowing look at Billie's life. Too lengthy and detailed in places. The reader does a good job but drones a bit in places. A fascinating insight into some of the great musicians she played with and their vices. Just needed pruning down a bit.
Listening about such an icon opens your eyes about the struggles and difficulties in her life. Some parts are a little horrifying but all in all a great listen.
The reader drags on a little in places but apart from that still a great listen.
"A must read"
A lively and vivid account of the life and art of lady day.
The level of detail both about her life and recordings was fascinating.
The ending was particularly poignant .
It made me laugh often.
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