Lady Sings the Blues the 50th Anniversary Edition (Harlem Moon Classics)
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Lady Sings the Blues is the fiercely honest, no-holds-barred autobiography of Billie Holiday, the legendary jazz, swing, and standards singing sensation. Taking the reader on a fast-moving journey from Holiday’s rough-and-tumble Baltimore childhood (where she ran errands at a whorehouse in exchange for the chance to listen to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith albums), to her emergence on Harlem’s club scene, to sold-out performances with the Count Basie Orchestra and with Artie Shaw and his band, this revelatory memoir is notable for its trenchant observations on the racism that darkened Billie’s life and the heroin addiction that ended it too soon. We are with her during the mesmerizing debut of “Strange Fruit”; with her as she rubs shoulders with the biggest movie stars and musicians of the day (Bob Hope, Lana Turner, Clark Gable, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and more); and with her through the scrapes with Jim Crow, spats with Sarah Vaughan, ignominious jailings, and tragic decline. All of this is told in Holiday’s tart, streetwise style and hip patois that makes it read as if it were written yesterday.
me more than I could make in a damn month as a maid. And I had someone doing my laundry. It was a small place. Florence only had two other girls, a yellow one named Gladys and a white girl whose name I don’t remember. It wasn’t long before I had money to buy a few things I’d always wanted—my first honest-to-God silk dress and a pair of spike-heeled ten-dollar patent-leather pumps. But I didn’t have what it took to be a call girl. In the first place, and for damn good reason, I was scared to
Seabury himself took her to the Appellate Court, where he got her thrown off the bench by a unanimous vote, declaring her “unfit” to be a judge. This was the old dame that sent me to jail as a “wayward woman.” This was the character who told me I was a bad character. She should have gone to jail herself, but she never did. There were hundreds of girls that she had sent up, and a lot of them were waiting for her. If she had gone to jail I’d almost have been willing to do another short bit myself
later I’d get a letter from some damn island somewhere, where they were fighting the bugs and snakes, the heat and the dry rot. Some of these letters would break your heart. They came from kids I never really knew, or who knew nothing about me, but I was never able to throw them away. Sometimes when they came from kids who really freaked for me, I’d send and get a wind-up victrola and ship it off to them with a bunch of my records or some of Duke Ellington’s. These might be rich kids who had
and soul by a white man who was the father of her children. She couldn’t read or write, but she knew the Bible by heart from beginning to end and she was always ready to tell me a story from the Scriptures. She was ninety-six or ninety-seven then and had dropsy. I used to take care of her every day after school. No one else paid any attention. I’d give her a bath sometimes. And I’d always bind her legs with fresh cloths and wash the smelly old ones. She’d been sleeping in chairs for ten years.
found it, put it on, put my last few dollars in a bag, put my dog under my arm, and walked out in my stocking feet down the fire escape of the Charles Hotel. I didn’t have a thing except what I had on my back and that bouncing check. I split for New York with my dog looking over my shoulder. I thought I was through with men—for sure, forever, and for keeps. I moved into the Hotel Henry on 44th Street. I was so sure I was going to live the rest of my life there, I wanted it fixed up to suit me.