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Lady Sings the Blues

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,816 ratings  ·  261 reviews
With photos
Originally released by Doubleday in 1956, Harlem Moon Classics celebrates the publication with the fiftieth-anniversary edition of Billie Holiday’s unforgettable and timeless memoir. Updated with an insightful introduction and a revised discography, both written by celebrated music writer David Ritz.
Lady Sings the Blues is the fiercely honest, no-holds-barred au
Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 6th 1984 by Penguin Books (first published 1956)
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3.99  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,816 ratings  ·  261 reviews

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Diane Wallace
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Touching story! unbelievable,interesting,amazing,lyrical goddess,captivating and factually correct information about the 'real' Billie Holiday (paperback!)
Jul 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is great, regardless of the ghost writing and the liberties with the "truth". I read it years ago but have been listening to Lady Day all evening.

Plus it gives me the chance to post this performance again which, as I have said before, is the greatest musical performance I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Not only from Billie, of course, but good god that is a line up - Young, Webster, Hawkins etc etc etc - just perfection and completely heartbreakingly beautiful.

So if you have nev
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
I have no idea what people say or don't about this book, I think its beautiful. I have never really gotten much into Billie Holiday, but I will after reading this book. I love her for it, and will definitely listen to her more. I didn't know she had written Strange Fruit, which is a song I have heard more in the Nina Simone interpretation, or Dont explain, which is one of my favourite songs ever ever.
Thank you Billie for this book! (Wherever she is)
Feb 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: jazz buffs and those interested in African-American history
Recommended to Granny by: my dear late mom
Shelves: non-fiction
My mom was a jazz band singer in the same era as Billie Holiday. All the young singers were in awe of Billie, according to Mom, but her addiction was well-known. Her nickname in the music trade was "Miss Needles." The music industry in the late 1930's and early 1940's was one of the few places where whites and African-Americans could mingle freely -- Mom was white and worked with many persons of color. Unfortunately, once off stage and off the work sites, in the southern cities where they worked ...more
Philippe Malzieu
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
there are voices which upset you. a particular tessitura which speaks to you. I remember the last Sarah Vaugahn's concert in France. The very sizeable newspaper "Le Monde" titrated : is it still necessary to listen to Sarah Vaughan? Appalling idiot. She was brilliant. She died few time after. And I remind to Montserrat Caballe, Waltraud Meier, to Chet Baker… All these singers who spoke directly in the heart.
Billie, I can only listen to her records.
There are in its voice so much sensuality and
Nancy Oakes
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sort-of-memoir
more next week when I get home. In the meantime, although it's widely known that parts of this book are embellished, it still makes for great reading.

Jan 25, 2009 rated it liked it
It helps to have some historical perspective on this book as you read it. Yes, it's a sad tale of the rise and struggles of an amazing jazz legend and you can't help but hear the voice of Billy as the story unfolds (I could not resist playing her music on my IPod in the background). But it's also important to keep in mind that the book is not always precisely truthful, perhaps for lots of personal, historical, and publishing reasons. I think it's best read for the general history, impressions/tr ...more
Apr 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
Normally, I would mark this book as a 3, possibly 4, star work, but there are two severe complications in that regard. One, Holiday herself claimed to have never read the book, or have much to do with it; it stands to reason that her attitude is direclty related to fact two, which is that many pieces of this particular story have been contradicted and/or proven false by historians and contemporaries.

As a fan of Holiday and her art, this is a maddening situation, as her truth was stranger, and s
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Hated the film starring Diana Ross. Bought the paperback years ago for a couple of dollars but didn't read it until now. Yes, Billie is fast and loose with some facts - her mother almost certainly was 18 or 19 when Billie was born, not 13 as Billie claims. Then there's the limitations arising from 1) the hurry to publish in order to generate money to defend drug charges and 2) the suppression of 20-30% of the original manuscript by folks with business interests in Lady Day. None of those factors ...more
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, classic
Eleanora Fagan was born April 7, 1915. Her mother was only 13 and her father was pretty much absent. Eleanora was raised by family while her mother worked; her childhood was painful and short. At 13 Eleanora was working as a prostitute, by 14 she was singing her unique style of jazz as Billie Holiday in Brooklyn clubs. Racism and drug addiction dogged her for most of her career but her unyielding spirit could never by broken.

In "Lady Sings the Blues" Billie Holiday tells us her story in her own
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
This real story had me totally fascinated all through. So much so that I had to jump to AdLibris and buy my own copy!!
Doris Jean
Apr 17, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all who like biographies, memoirs, musicians.
Shelves: biography
She was an unusually interesting unique person. Too bad she fell down the drug addict hole, dying with heroin for her next shot strapped to her thigh. I prefer her as a musician rather than as an author. This was a patchy book with missing pieces. I was aware that there was more than one author since the writing flow and style was often jerky.

Also, this book seemed to me to be a mix of authenticity and untruth. I say "untruth" because there were several incorrect assertions, for one example, wh
Peter O'Connor
The best part about this book is the language in which it is written and the era it represents. Utilising a lot of street and jazz speak of the time as well as the casual references to jazz era giants makes for a unique insight. Unfortunately the admission in the book's foreword that confirms that the validity of it's claims are rightly disputed. This tends to tint the whole book a little as the reader is left to try and decide which parts are fiction and which aren't. Still, even if some of the ...more
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book! It felt like Billie was talking to me herself. Next to Ella she is my favourite Jazz singer. I love her versions of Good Morning Heartache and Crazy He Calls Me.
I bought the kindle version of “Lady Sings the Blues” because it was on sale. I knew almost nothing of Billie Holiday except for her amazing voice. When I read the introduction by David Ritz about controversies of just how much ghost-writing Billie’s good friend William Dufty provided and the question of the veracity of the book, I was a bit disappointed. Yet, as I read on, I grew to love Billie’s voice (or Dufty’s?) and realized that anyone’s memoirs could be scrutinized. What memoirist isn’t g ...more
Benn Allen
"Lady Sings the Blues" is ostensibly Billie Holiday's autobiography. However, it was actually ghostwritten by William Dufty. Dufty's writing style is good enough to make the reader feel they are reading Lady Day telling us her story. And that's a huge plus for the book.

However, the book feels incomplete. Quite a few times, an anecdote or incident is related, but we never quite get the rest of it. Or the incident is told in such broad strokes it's not quite clear what happened. For instance, when
Big Al
I am by no means any kind of Billie Holiday expert, so I’m not going to speculate about how much of the content is “true” or how much of this book is written in her own words. From a casual fan’s perspective, I found this to be an incredibly entertaining memoir about the behind the scenes life of one of show biz’s most badass performers. Holiday’s narrative voice reads as sassy and straight up, and her life story makes for a truly wild ride (especially those first few chapters!). I wish there wa ...more
Marjori Pomarole
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Short and sweet. But more like short and heartbreaking. Behind the powerful voice there was a story of violence, police abuse, racism and struggle through every step of her career. What a strong person, many people would have crumbled at half the things she had to endure. Highly recommended this book. Wish it was 3x the size. #bookshelf
Sep 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected. Possibly it read a little like selected interview tapes, no tonal variety. Underplayed financial management, and probably the degree of drug taking. But very good - because of its understatement - on racism and discrimination. And you can’t beat the singing.
Joan Baslow-Temple
Mar 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Raw and heart wrenching.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was moving, kinda sad but ultimately beautiful in its own way.

Definitely glad I stumbled on this in a bookshop.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing life. Starting with her mother's pregnancy with the singer at thirteen years old, Holiday paints her poverty ridden childhood with so much color and life it's hard to accept the heartbreaking reality of her being a prostitute and nearly raped at age ten (for which she was thrown in prison and then a nunnery).

Between the struggle as a musician to keep food in her belly and the constant barrage of legal obstacles and imprisonments from racist white America, it's truly staggering w
Feb 13, 2012 rated it liked it
It's very difficult to know what to say about this memoir, since it wasn't exactly written by Billie Holiday, but by her friend William Dufty, who based it on interviews and other conversations with her. This review at the San Francisco Chronicle says that the book is full of "factual inaccuracies and exaggerations" but "captures [Holiday's] tart voice and unflinching eye," and that Dufty's "aim was to let Holiday tell her story her way." It sounds like a lot of the events didn't happen as descr ...more
Eizabeth Marquez
Can never be another Lady Day!!

Her style was entirely her own, distinctive, haunting
Unimaginably smooth and unforgettable. She sang straight from her heart. If you heard a song sung by her you never liked it sung by anyone else, she owned it. Just imagine how different and how much better her life would have been if the law hadn’t dogged and harassed her. She was sick, not a criminal. A good book about a great Lady.
Paula Maguire
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book which is written in her own words and throws some insight on racism in 30s to the 60s and how tough it is to be a musician on the road- It's no wonder she took to drugs - You'd need something - What follows is full of spoilers so you know what to do ... Tough upbringing - Her mum was 13 when she was born . Raised by her grandmother, beaten by her aunt, Loved by her great grand mum( she died in her arms - the old woman's arm had to be broken as she had rigor mortus - Raped as ...more
Willem van den Oever
Without a doubt one of the most recognizable voices in the jazz-scene (and possibly the most powerful), Billie Holiday’s autobiography is just as wonderful and emotional as her vocal work.
Lady Sings the Blues” is as diverse, bewildering and touching as her music. There are great moments of triumph and seemingly endless times of hardship, tragedy and sadness. From her childhood, during which she hardly knew about her father and she’d spend most of her time running errands for a local whorehouse,
Dec 28, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a riot. A sad, moving riot.
Gabrielle Adams
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir, ghostwritten purportedly in Lady Day's speaking style, was an eerie, engaging account of her life. This edition is preceded by an intro that mentions the above about the book's authorship, that it has fielded criticism for taking liberties with the truth, and details about Ms Holiday's demise that lent a certain dramatic irony to the reading that I at times resented (e.g., wondering whether this or that unbelievable anecdote is indeed true) but in the end appreciated. The accounts o ...more
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I might have over rated it by a star... I'm currently enamoured with memoirs. Lady's memoir is particularly honest and gritty at the same time. It provides a vivid picture of racism and poverty that most black people went through in the middle twentieth century. My father tells me he remembers seeing separate bathrooms and water fountains when his parents went to Memphis for a vacation...
I digress, Billy Holiday has a lust for life and feels emotions deeply. Trying to help her father and moth
Sarah Pascarella
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
"I've been told that nobody sings the word 'hunger' like do. Or the word 'love'...All I've learned is wrapped up in those two words. You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body's sermon on how to behave. Everything I am and everything I want out of life goes back to that."

It's been 60 years since Holiday published her autobiography, and we still haven't internalized this lesson.
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Billie Holiday was an American jazz singer and songwriter.

Nicknamed Lady Day by her sometime collaborator Lester Young, Holiday was a seminal influence on jazz, and pop singers' critic John Bush wrote that she "changed the art of American pop vocals forever." Her vocal style — strongly inspired by instrumentalists — pioneered a new way of manipulating wording and tempo, and also popularized a more
“Everyones got to be different. You can't copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing.” 25 likes
“In this country, don’t forget, a habit is no damn private hell. There’s no solitary confinement outside of jail. A habit is hell for those you love. And in this country it’s the worst kind of hell for those who love you.” 18 likes
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