Book cover, 16.7k BILLIE HOLIDAY

by: Stuart Nicholson
311 pages, $29.95 (£18.99)
US publisher: Northeastern University Press, Boston
UK publisher: Victor Gollancz, a division of the Cassell group.
ISBN number: 0-575-05631-2

Billie Holiday -'Lady Day' - is one of the icons of twentieth-century music. Yet the life story of arguably the greatest of all jazz singers has never been told in full until now. Since her death in 1959 at the age of forty-four, the Billie Holiday legend has fed off a swirling mass of apocryphal stories and half-truths. In this vivid, exhaustively researched biography, Stuart Nicholson sifts fact from fiction to present a richer and stranger picture of Holiday's life than has ever been revealed.

Going on record for the first time, Evelyn Miller, a half-cousin, offers disturbing insights into Holiday's childhood of poverty and unhappiness, during which she was placed in detention three times. The development of her unique musical persona, which she refused to surrender in the big bands of Count Basie and Artie Shaw, is traced with the collaboration of Shaw himself. By the time she was twenty the jazz world seemed to be at Billie Holiday's feet; but then she became increasingly enmeshed in the world of narcotic drugs. Nicholson investigates the drug culture of New York in the thirties and forties and examines Holiday's addiction from her medical records. Holiday was finally busted for possession in 1947 and startling new light is cast on the circumstances of her arrest and subsequent trial. Holiday's glamorous, sleazy life subsequently slid downhill, and her tragic final years are sensitively and revealingly charted with the co-operation of Norman Granz, who recorded Holiday extensively during the fifties.

Nicholson interleaves his narrative with an original, thought-provoking discussion of Holiday's oeuvre that will have you reaching for her recordings to listen with fresh ears. Supplemented by an authoritative discography by noted jazz historian Phil Schaap, Billie Holiday is one of the most important biographies ever written on a jazz musician.

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