Her Haunted Heart

John Lahr

  • Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday
    Penguin, 179 pp, £9.99, November 2018, ISBN 978 0 241 35129 1

‘I’ve been told that nobody sings the word “hunger” like I do. Or the word “love”,’ Billie Holiday says in her memoir Lady Sings the Blues (written in 1956 with William Dufty and now reissued). Like Kafka’s hunger artist, Holiday let song make a spectacle of her deprivation. ‘I don’t need a friend/My heart is broken, it won’t ever mend/I ain’t much carin’/Just where I will end,’ she sang in ‘I Must Have That Man’, a song minted out of her calamitous life. She was always shooting towards tragedy,’ said the virtuoso clarinettist Artie Shaw, whose band she briefly sang for. ‘It was just a question of how and when.’

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