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Synopses & Reviews
From Julia Blackburn, an author whose ability to conjure lives from other times and places is so vivid that one suspects she sees ghosts, here is a portrait of a woman whose voice continues to haunt anyone who hears it.
Billie Holidays life is inseparable from an account of her troubles, her addictions, her arrests, and the scandals that would repeatedly put her name in the tabloid headlines of the 1940s and 1950s. Those who knew her learned never to be surprised by what she might do. Her moods and faces were so various that she could seem to be a different woman from one moment to the next. Volatile, unpredictable, Billie Holiday remained, even to her friends, an elusive and perplexing figure.
In With Billie, we hear the voices of those people-piano players and dancers, pimps and junkies, lovers and narcs, producers and critics, each recalling intimate stories of the Billie they knew. What emerges is a portrait of a complex, contradictory, enthralling woman, a woman who knew what really mattered to her. Reading With Billie, one is convinced that she has only just left the room but will return shortly.
"Piecing together interviews with more than 150 people who knew Billie Holiday, Blackburn creates a biography that at times surges with energy. These interviews, which were conducted in the 1970s but never published, offer readers a unique glimpse into Holiday's life as those close to the legendary jazz singer recall the sometimes touching, often brutal events that formed her resilient character. Blackburn, author of several books, including Old Man Goya, begins by recalling her first experience with Holiday's music, but quickly steps aside, allowing the interviewees' stories to speak for themselves. Each person offers a unique perspective of Holiday, from girls who attended reform school with her to fellow musicians and boyfriends who chronicle the world of prostitution and drug use in which Holiday was immersed. Unfortunately, Blackburn makes little attempt to weave together these different voices, which makes for a disjointed read. But the anecdotes are nonetheless fascinating, covering Holiday's troubled childhood in Baltimore through her years of acclaim and hardship: 'In that era all the female vocalists had to have a man who'll beat on them and take their money sic,' recalls her bass player John Levy. Described alternately as a 'shy girl' and a boisterous woman who loved to laugh, someone comfortable in the slums but also 'a person with a lot of pride,' Holiday emerges as a multifaceted figure. The one thing agreed upon by all the interviewees, though, is the mesmerizing quality of her voice, and fans will cherish this book as an attempt to reveal the complexities of the woman behind that extraordinary talent." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Julia Blackburn is the author of several other works of nonfiction, including Charles Waterton and The Emperors Last Island, and of two novels, The Book of Color and The Lepers Companions, both of which were short-listed for the Orange Prize. Her most recent book, Old Man Goya, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Blackburn lives in England and Italy.
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