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With Billie by Julia Blackburn

Three decades ago, obsessive Billie Holiday disciple Linda Kuehl set out to write what she believed would be the definitive biography of Lady Day–a project involving dozens of interviews, hundreds of rewritten pages and at least two prospective publishers–that utterly consumed and likely killed her. Enter Julia Blackburn to pick up the scattered pieces. But what seems an intriguing idea is scuppered by Blackburn’s journalist sloppiness amd what seems to be a complete lack of knowledge of jazz and its vernacular.

What voices are resurrected here from Kuehl’s interviews tend to be those of secondary figures who existed at the periphery of Holiday’s troubled life. Nor does Blackburn make much of an attempt to fill the gaping holes left in Kuehl’s vast but hardly comprehensive research.

Holiday deserves a great new biography. This slipshod volume doesn’t even approach fair. Better to unearth Donald Clarke’s 1994 book Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon, which also drew on Kuehl’s files but in an intelligently judicious way.

Originally Published