Backstory & More

Reading & Discussion Guide

THE BOOK’S BACKSTORY

    Between the Lines with Author Carole Boston Weatherford

I first heard Billie Holiday as a tyke and got hooked on her as a teen after seeing the film Lady Sings the Blues. Billie became my muse sometime around 1980. She made cameos in my earlier works and eventually prodded me to pen her memoir. But I was afraid that young adults might not relate to a long-gone jazz legend. Then, an eighth grader admiring the singer’s likeness at Baltimore’s Great Blacks in Wax Museum convinced me that Billie never ceases to be hip.

Before writing a word, I listened to her early recordings, and read bios and interviews. Lady was not just singing the blues; she was singing her life. As I researched, Billie whispered in my ear, and as I wrote, she hummed in the background. Thus, the collection’s 97 poems are titled after Holiday’s songs and narrated by the singer herself. Her voice is sassy, soulful, and sophisticated. Becoming Billie Holiday leaves 25-year-old Lady Day at the peak of her fame, singing “Strange Fruit.” That’s how I think Billie would want to be remembered.

Behind the Easel with Artist Floyd Cooper

I love Billie Holliday and I can’t help it. The wistful strains of her soulful sound have a way of tugging insistently at my own past, calling me home. The surprising thing is, just like her music, working on this book took me back home in that same figurative way.

I created the art with a subtractive technique, using erasers to make shapes from a ground of paint. I then enhanced the shapes with mixed media, mostly oil based, layered in a dry brush fashion. Think “smoke”–  atmospheric–perhaps looking backward in time through a “gauze” of spent time.

10 THINGS ABOUT BILLIE

  • She loved dogs. She owned boxers and chihuahuas and crocheted a sweater for one pooch. She took her dog with her to clubs, restaurants and church.
  • She read pulp fiction magazines and love comics.
  • She competed in the amateur contest at Baltimore’s Harlem Theatre.
  • She helped her mother in soul-food restaurants that she ran out of their homes.
  • She shoplifted as a girl.
  • She was a tomboy and fought boys who teased her.
  • She was afraid of bugs and dead people.
  • She was baptized in the first African-American Catholic church in the United States (St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Baltimore).
  • She dropped out of school in fifth grade.
  • She was the first African-American vocalist to tour with an all-white big band.

A HOLIDAY PLAYLIST 

Getting Some Fun Out of Life

Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine

Summertime

Love Me or Leave Me

God Bless the Child

Autumn in New York

Moonlight in Vermont

Ain’t Nobody’s Business

I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

Spreadin’ the Rhythm Around

Strange Fruit

LADY DAY LINKS

Official Billie Holiday site: bio, timeline, photos, songs, quotes

Public Domain Photos of Lady Day from the Library of Congress: Carl Van Vechten Collection and William Gottlieb Collection

Check out the Billie Holiday playlists on these youtube channels: moazieg and bryantchristi.

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