cover image Wishing on the Meon: 2the Life and Times of Billie Holiday

Wishing on the Meon: 2the Life and Times of Billie Holiday

Donald Clarke. Viking Books, $24.95 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-670-83771-7

Born Elinore Harris in Philadelphia, jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday (1915-59) was abandoned by her itinerant musician father, then by her stepfather, and got little sense of self-esteem from her exploitive mother. Holiday became a prostitute, and later, while achieving cult status in Harlem, a heroin addict. In Clarke's remarkably insightful biography, a joy to read, the singer emerges as a vulnerable woman who had unrewarding affairs with unsuitable men out of her fear of deeper love. Nevertheless, writes Clarke, editor of The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music , she was a charismatic interpretive artist touched with grace, who fought entrenched racism in the music industry. This marvelously evocative portrait places her performances firmly in the African American subculture from which they sprang. Clarke includes testimonies from Holiday's close associates, whom the late Linda Kuehl interviewed in 1970-72 for a never-completed biography. Crammed with jazz history and lore and sketches of legendary musicians, this biography will have great appeal for Holiday fans and jazz followers. Photos. (Sept.)