Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday

Dead at forty-four. Killed by a lifetime of fast living with hard men and hard drugs. Singer of a troubled song learned from harsh firsthand experience: Billie Holiday, also known as lady Day.

As a figure of trouble, Lady Day has secured a place in the pantheon of American icons. Pop history, fed by her own autobiography, has canonized her in print and film in the image of star-as-victim, the heroin addict and bedraggled dupe of a succession of husband/pimp/managers who kept her singing to support themselves. But she was also a back-talker, a fighter, quick with her fists. She could be hard and violent -- not just the victim but a brutal victimizer herself. She aslso sustained long-standing friendships with people of great gentleness, including fellow musicians Bobby Tucker and Lester Young. And she had so many looks, moods, and attitudes that pictures taken of her during true same session of appearance show completely different women -- all of the faces were Lady Day's. As always, the truth is far more complex than the myth. The tragic images is but one of her many faces, and Lady Day lives as a great -- according to many, the greatest jazz singer of our time.

In this lavishly illustrated book, Robert O'Meally enables us to discover the full range and complexity of this fascinating artist, the many faces of this "dark lady of the sonnets."


1991--Rolling Stone/Ralph J. Gleason Book Award