Book: Becoming Billie Holiday



A fictional verse memoir by Carole Boston Weatherford
Art by Floyd Cooper
Ages: 14–adult
Hardcover, 120 pages
Published: 10/1/2008
ISBN: 1-59078-507-X
ISBN-13: 978-1-59078-507-2
Reading & Discussion Guide
One-Woman Multimedia Production
The world knew her as Billie Holiday, but first she was Eleanora Fagan–neglected by her parents, raped by a neighbor, and sent to reform school. She scrubbed marble steps, drank bootleg liquor, smoked then-legal weed, worked in a brothel, and found her voice–all before leaving Baltimore. She hit New York just as the Harlem Renaissance gave way to the Great Depression. Luckily, Eleanora had a voice. She began her singing career as a teen and, by age 25, had not only fronted the era’s hottest bands, but recorded her signature song “Strange Fruit.” Poems by Weatherford trace the singer’s journey from B-girl to jazz royalty. Cinematic, sepia-toned art by Cooper completes this fictional verse memoir.


  • 2008 SLJ Extra Helping Hot Pick —School Library Journal
  • 2008 SLJ Best Books
  • 2008 Best Young-Adult Books 2008 —Kirkus Reviews
  • 2008 Best Books —Christian Science Monitor
  • A Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
  • Best Books for Young Adults —YALSA/ALA
  • Capitol Choices Award


 “The poetry is rich and evocative, fully up to celebrating a singer who could “breathe a universe in a single note.” Cooper uses his trademark subtractive technique to great effect, providing a beautiful visual complement to the poetry. A remarkable tribute well worthy of its subject.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Weatherford’s language is straightforward and accessible–almost conversational. She captures the woman’s jazzy, candid voice so adroitly that at times the poems seem like they could have been lifted wholesale from Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. … This captivating title places readers solidly into Holiday’s world, and is suitable for independent reading as well as a variety of classroom uses.” —School Library Journal



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WBGO-FM – Newark, NJ:  Reading from Becoming Billie Holiday

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