By Julia Blackburn
(Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780375406102, 368pp.)
Publication Date: April 19, 2005
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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 Holiday’s 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.
Julia Blackburn is the author of several other works of nonfiction, including Charles Waterton and The Emperor’s Last Island, and of two novels, The Book of Color and The Leper’s 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.
“This addition to the tide of Billie Holiday books is extremely welcome. Nowhere else is the context of her life and work so vividly captured.”
-- Toni Morrison
"At last, a portrait of the artist and person called Billie Holiday. This extraordinary book completes her story."
-- Mike Figgis
“Billie Holiday was — and is — a singer who stays in the mind of everyone who heard her. Like all jazz musicians, she sang about who she was at the moment and during all that preceded that moment. Julia Blackburn’s With Billie tells Billie’s own stories of that life and this book becomes part of the music.”
-- Nat Hentoff