American Legends: The Life of Billie Holiday


SKU: 9781986133555
Author: Charles River
Publication Date: 03/02/2018
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Binding: Paperback
Media: Book
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*Includes pictures *Includes Holliday’s quotes *Includes footnotes and a bibliography for further reading *Includes a table of contents “Don’t threaten me with love, baby, let’s just go walking in the rain” – Billie Holiday A lot of ink has been spilled covering the lives of history’s most influential figures, but how much of the forest is lost for the trees? In Charles River Editors’ American Legends series, readers can get caught up to speed on the lives of America’s most important men and women in the time it takes to finish a commute, while learning interesting facts long forgotten or never known. If Billie Holiday wanted to become a jazz singer, she chose the best of all eras in which to attempt it. A wave of great jazz and jazz/pop crossover artists swept over the United States from the 1920s through the 1950s, generating a golden age for the genre. This wondrous jazz era was well represented by both black and white master artists, men, women, vocalists, and instrumentalists, and Billie Holiday has stood the test of time as well as any, despite struggling with an environment that easily could have doomed such aspirations. Emerging from such a powerful group of talented vocalists was not easy. The woman who has come to represent a model of great, instinctive jazz singing came from nowhere, had nothing, and virtually had no one who was truly helpful in her background. She was raw and untrained but went forward regardless, with limited and quirky vocal gifts, the likes of which had never been heard in the highest circles of jazz. This especially was true among women, where perfection of phrasing and a smooth style of delivery stood as the unspoken guidelines of vocal success. No female counterpart of Louis Armstrong, one of Holiday’s idols, was ever going to survive in the female jazz world for long, except perhaps as a novelty. It was not only hard-headed persistence that made Holiday “a preeminent female jazz vocalist” but a self-education, with the core belief that to sound like another singer was to not make music at all. Singing only from her deepest instinct and accepting no one as a literal model, she magically “changed the paradigm for jazz singing” by refusing to do anything the way it was expected to be done, or by swinging in any way that did not come authentically from her own artistry. Holiday “rewrote the rules” of jazz singing by using her voice not to imitate other singers, but by taking on the style of movement and sound common to jazz instruments. On top of that, she took the moderately employed practice of singing off the beat and brought it to the rhythmic forefront of virtually everything she sang. Holiday could “subtly twist [the] rhythm” in a way never before heard, “in the manner of an instrumental soloist.” Grateful to Louis Armstrong as a model, any song she took up was transformed rhythmically, tonally, and emotionally, with her “light and untrained” instrument, which despite its clarity could wield “a wounded poignancy” . Listeners were astonished to hear the human female voice so hauntingly able to reflect the sounds and styles of familiar instruments. Holiday’s comment on the phenomenon suggested that although she used instruments as models of vocal production and movement, she would not directly imitate anything – “I don’t think I’m singing. I feel like I’m playing a horn…like Louis Armstrong or someone else I admire…[but] I can’t even copy me” . American Legends: The Life of Billie Holiday looks at the life and career of one of America’s most famous singers. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about Billie Holiday like never before, in no time at all.