Lady Day's Journey
WITH BILLIE. By Julia Blackburn. Pantheon Books. 368 pp. $25
Lady Day—as tenor saxophonist Lester Young nicknamed her (he often dubbed a female musician “Lady”)—has been the subject of several books and an inauthentic movie (Lady Sings the Blues), but the life that became the music has never been so deeply revealed as it is in With Billie, a collection of more than 150 interviews with musicians, junkies, lovers, narcotics agents, relatives, and a decidedly heterogeneous group of friends. Linda Kuehl conducted many of the interviews in the 1970s, for a biography she didn’t live to complete. Now, Julia Blackburn, a novelist and biographer, has assembled and edited the transcripts, producing a portrait that’s both panoramic and intimate.
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Nat Hentoff is a columnist for The Village Voice. He is the author most recently of the essay collection American Music Is (2004).more from this author >>