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Book Review: Divas: Billie Holiday
Chris Ingham, Unanimous / Welcome Rain
By Matthew S. Robinson
(more articles from this author)
2001-05-09
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Title: Divas: Billie Holiday
Author: Chris Ingham
Publisher: Unanimous / Welcome Rain
Pages:138 pages
Price: $12.95

As part of a small but well-established series of critical biographies on some of the greatest female voices of our age (a series which also includes Aretha, Judy and Barbra), Chris Ingham has taken at least a great deal of the myriad of history and anecdote about "Lady Day" (ne Eleanora Harris) and distilled it into a comprehensive yet comprehendible volume. Combining his own facts and details with the attempts of many others, including famous bandleaders and bandmates like Bennie Goodman (with whom Billie apparently also had an offstage relationship) Lester Young (to whom Ingham claims Holiday gave the lasting nickname "Pres"), Ingham helps to separate the wheat of legend from the chaff of infamy.

Tracing Holiday's growth from a lonesome and troubled adolescent to a famous but still more troubled woman grown old too fast, Ingham gives some excuses for Holiday's self-destruction while subtly warning others against following her path in every aspect. In so doing, he demonstrates the benefits and banes of such a no holds barred and no excuses attitude which eventually reversed itself in a miserable and ultimately fatal crash.

Complete with a discography of Holiday's most authentic albums (as opposed to the bin-bursting piles of reissues that have tried to leech onto her legend), a well-researched critical essay and bibliography, and a depictive photo layout, Ingham's portrait of Holiday may not be the most comprehensive, but neither is it too foreboding for the interested fan of music or history.


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