If You Can't be Free, be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday

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Singer, composer, actress, lover, wife, writer, pleasure seeker, drug addict, icon, commodity, myth and mystery: Billie Holiday is still one of the most famous jazz vocalists of all time. But Holiday's image -- the gifted torch singer with insatiable appetites for food, sex, alcohol and drugs -- is not the full story. Farah Jasmine Griffin's enchanting investigation of Holiday, her world and how she is remembered, at last fully liberates Lady Day from the tragic songstress myth.

Griffin argues that the stereotype of a black woman who can always take center stage to command an audience because of her incredible ability to feel, but not to think, continues to hide the real Holiday from public view. Instead of a mindless "natural" with incredible talent but no discipline, Griffin's Holiday is a jazz virtuoso whose passion and technique made every song she sang forever hers. Instead of being helpless against the racism, sexism and poverty that dominated her life, Holiday is an artist, willing to pay a tremendous price to change the sound of jazz forever. And far from being a victim of overwhelming obstacles, Lady Day is an independent spirit whose greatest legacy is that all hurdles can be overcome, whatever the odds.

Holiday's voice has permeated American music from Frank Sinatra to Macy Gray. But, until now, Holiday's influence has never been reconciled with her image. Farah Jasmine Griffin unravels the threads that make up the Holiday mystique and weaves together a new, true Lady Day that jazz fans will both love and respect.

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IF YOU CAN'T BE FREE, BE A MYSTERY: In Search of Billie Holiday

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An erudite fan attempts to reconstruct the life of singer Billie Holiday in a more positive light, by deconstructing her previous biographies.Lady Day, who died more than 30 years ago, remains a ... Read full review

If you can't be free, be a mystery: in search of Billie Holiday

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Readers should note that this is not a straightforward biography of Holiday (1915-59); it is more an invitation to discover a view of the singer grounded not in attention-grabbing headlines and ... Read full review


A Mourning Song i
Lady of the Day

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About the author (2001)

A Billie Holiday fan for as long as she can remember, Farah Jasmine Griffin is currently a visiting professor at Columbia University. She is the author of "Who Set You Flowin'?": The African-American Migration Narrative.

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