What I’m Reading: Becoming Billie Holiday

I bought this book intending to also get a CD of Billie Holiday’s music to go with it.  That was four years ago, and not until recently did I acquire the CD!  So, it’s been on my reading pile awhile.

Before I started reading it, I had the impression this was a graphic novel telling Billie Holiday’s biography.  In fact, it’s an illustrated book of poems.  It is a biography of Billie Holiday, but the choice of poetry to tell the story means it doesn’t have the fact density of a regular biography.  Nevertheless, I think poetry is an especially appropriate story-telling method for the subject matter in this case.  The poems have an earthy, bluesy feel to them that really evoke the atmosphere of 1930s Harlem.  The occasional pictures, while beautifully done, don’t add much to the story in my opinion.

The CD I purchased is Billie Holiday Sings Standards and it gets a ten out of ten, four stars, two thumbs up.  Billie’s singing is…heartfelt.  I know I’m hardly the first to notice this!  It really feels like she’s inhabiting the songs.  The other artists with a similar quality that spring to mind are Hank Williams, or Robert Johnson.  Probably not a coincidence they all lived hard lives during the Depression.  My favorite on the CD is Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You but any of the songs are excellent, and many feature well-known jazz musicians of the era (Oscar Peterson, Ben Webster, etc.).  It is definitely my intention to seek out more Billie Holiday–perhaps Lady Sings the Blues.

Hey, you got two reviews for the price of one!  I’d recommend Becoming Billie Holiday to someone who had a special interest in her life but was already familiar with the general details, or perhaps someone who was learning about the Harlem Renaissance.  The CD I’d recommend to anyone who would appreciate a jazz vocalist, or love songs with a sad tinge.  As far as jazz vocal CDs go, it’s up there with Ella and Louis or Sarah Vaughan’s self-titled debut album.

2 Comments on “What I’m Reading: Becoming Billie Holiday

  1. I would have bought you a CD if that is all you were waiting for. LOL. Glad you enjoyed both.

  2. There are certain artists I feel I have to wait until the right time for. I want to give them my maximum attention. I'm a big Coltrane fan but it was years before I bought A Love Supreme because I wanted to really be ready. Same with this one.Thanks for your comment!

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