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If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday
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If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  119 Ratings  ·  11 Reviews
More than four decades after her death, Billie Holiday remains one of the most gifted artists of our time–and also one of the most elusive. Because of who she was and how she chose to live her life, Lady Day has been the subject of both intense adoration and wildly distorted legends. Now at last, Farah Jasmine Griffin, a writer of intellectual authority and superb literary ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 30th 2002 by One World/Ballantine (first published May 14th 2001)
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Rebecca McNutt
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery is a very compelling story, immersed deeply in both history and the alluring mystery of fame and glamour.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
The title is taken from a 1989 poem by Rita Dove about Billie Holiday. I have listened in awe to her music carefully and continuously for 47-or-so-years. I have read other books about her life. I have seen the movie. This book tells her story more fully than any other biography I have read. And does so with style and respect, both for Lady Day and for the cultures in which she lived.....that is the culture of jazz and the culture of America during her too brief life. Here's one great quote: "Bil ...more
Aug 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Three stars probably isn't fair because in so many ways this is a great book, an important and necessary one, that gets at the necessity of Billie Holiday's "culture of dissemblance" as a mode of self-protection. Griffin also delves into the ways the categories "black woman" and "genius" are held at arm's length. This is also a great book to teach because it covers a number of black feminist concerns in a very accessible manner. So why 3 stars? I wanted more. I wanted the discussions to be longe ...more
Tanji Gilliam
Jun 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: billie holiday fans and every other black woman previously unaccounted for
music scholarship can be as vibrant and passionate as the cultures being studied.
Jul 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Using transcripts of interviews with Billie's contemporaries; friends and band mates and casual acquaintances Ms. Griffin paints a vivid picture of Lady Day showing the complexities of her life against the back drop of the era.
The writing shows her as a human being (as much as a legend) and through the eyes of those who knew her you see Ms. Holiday's fears, anger, love, violence and courage. It is a biography that gives the reader an opportunity to know more about Billie and determine for thems
Apr 04, 2016 is currently reading it
I'm finally getting round to all the books I wanted to read while I was studying. I really enjoyed the module I did on The Harlem Renaissance and was keen to delve more. Farah Jasmine Griffin contributed to the module and I wanted to read more of her writing as I was impressed by her.
Kelly Martinez
Jul 28, 2016 rated it liked it
I read this when it was first written and announced in Ebony magazine. It seems it was written from a feminist perspective. I didn't agree with certain things in this book. But as I said it was written from the authors perspective and maybe that is why.
Michael Borshuk
Mar 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A poetic study about Holiday's complicated legacy, written with great self-consciousness and affectionate by a lifelong Holiday devotee. At times, the discussions were maybe a bit too impressionistic for my academic tastes, but this is a lovely read.
A great book about Billie Holiday and her legacy, and the position of the Black African-American woman in general. Even if you don't know the singer at first, this will make you want to.
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
Very informative about Billie from the standpoint of placing her in historical perspective, and directly confronting issues of race and gender. A wonderful read, only wish it was twice as long. Bravo to Farah Jasmine Griffin for dropping this gem into the historical record about Jazz, where too little is written by African Americans and women. Joy to read!
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Farah Jasmine Griffin is a professor of English and comparative literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, where she has served as director of the Institute for Research in African American studies.

In addition to editing several collections of letters and essays she is the author of Who Set You Flowin’: The African American Migration Narrative (Oxford, 1995), If You Can’t Be F
More about Farah Jasmine Griffin...