With Billie by Julia Blackburn - review by William Palmer

William Palmer

The Lion and the Child

With Billie


Jonathan Cape 356pp £17.99

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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