Saturday, March 26, 2005

"I Can Sing The Top Of A Song"

Just the other day I posted about Billie Holiday's version of "Gloomy Sunday" and then I come across this in today's Guardian. In advance of her book, With Billie, Julia Blackburn offers a taster on Lady Day's life by those who knew her. What comes through, she says, is not Billie the victim but a woman of remarkable strength in the face of adversity.
Initially, I thought I was going to write a biography, but what I have ended up with is something more like a documentary. Instead of trying to produce a unified account of Holiday's life, I have let some of the most interesting or eloquent speakers tell their own story of who she was and what she meant to them. As I worked with these interviews I began to see a very different person to the drug-riddled victim of her own vices so often and so flippantly described on CD covers and elsewhere.
Here are some extracts from Blackburn's essay that give a sense of Billie Holiday's personalities and priorities:

Pianist Bobby Tucker:
He remembered the occasion when she was being presented with an award and the house lights were suddenly turned on and "she literally froze, her voice was shaking, she was trembling". This fear was always visible to the people who knew her well, but it was part of her strength, part of the energy of concentration. She said: "The time when you go out there on stage and you're not nervous, that's when you're gonna stink."
Stump Daddy:
Lady Day was a tremendous mental musical being. She knew about the creative value of music. She'd come out of the sky with something and she could crack your skull with a riff.
Pianist and composer Irene Kitchings:
Once Billie got big, it didn't matter to her. All she wanted was to have some decent music to accompany her and the people to be quiet and listen to her sing... Singing was all she knew how to do. That's all that made her real happy.
And finally Billie herself:
I've got stories about music and that means I can sing the top of a song.
Read the rest.


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