Was Billie Holiday a victim of drink and drugs or…

Julia Blackburn’s biography of The First Lady of Jazz reviewed in The Guardian:

Billie Holiday performing  at Ryan's on 52nd Street, New York City
‘She could crack your skull with a riff’… Billie Holiday plays New York in 1942

In November 1956, Holiday was interviewed by Tex McCreary. She sounds heavy with alcohol and whatever drugs she might have been using, and the conversation is slow and awkward. The interviewer obviously feels it’s no good going on with the questions and she was in no fit state to sing, but he has a sudden inspiration. He asks her to recite one of her songs. “I want you to close your eyes, Billie,” he says, “and speak the words like a poet. What about ‘Yesterdays’?”

Without a moment’s hesitation she does what she has been told to do. She recites the words with an almost unbearable languor, but with all the power and authority of a great theatrical monologue. Her voice sounds like a song, so musical in its resonances that as you listen you seem to hear a band playing with her:

Yesterdays,

Days I knew as happy sweet,

Sequestered days,

Olden days, golden days,

Days of mad romance and love.

Then gay youth was mine,

Truth was mine,

Joyous free and flaming life,

Forsooth were mine.

Sad am I, glad am I,

For today I’m dreaming of,

Yesterdays…

So that is the sort of performance she might have given if she could appear before us now, and you cannot doubt that everyone listening to her would hold their breath in awe and delight.

Read more here.

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