With Billie by Julia Blackburn - review by William Palmer

William Palmer

The Lion and the Child

With Billie


Jonathan Cape 356pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

First what this book is not. It may be, as its publisher claims, 'an extraordinary and haunting new life' of the great jazz singer Billie Holiday, but it is not a conventional, chronologically arranged biography. JuliaBlackburn has taken a series of tape-recorded interviews conducted over thirty years ago by Linda Kuehl , added research of her own, and presented a kaleidoscopic and disjointed portrait of her subject, and the first clear evocation that I have read of the world from which Billie emerged and in which she lived. It is a series of views, often extraordinarily contradictory, seen through the eyes of childhood friends, lovers, drunks, pimps, narcotics agents, and musicians. 

Much jazz writing in the past was by middle-class white men who hopelessly romanticised and misunderstood the figures they wrote about. T he black musicians of what we can roughly call the 'Golden Age' of jazz, say 1926- 1956, came for the most part from what might as well have bee n a different planet. Until the 1960s,

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