Billie Holiday: Wishing On The Moon

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Billie Holiday - The Way You Look Tonight

Often when a boyfriend hit her she punched him right back, according to her friend Carmen McRae. She was opinionated and impolitic about other musicians and despised imitators, much like Lester Young. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that women were in a state of becoming , of emergence.

If Woman was the Other of Man, recognition of that tension—of her inferior social status and unlimited potential—was not only a necessary beginning but a philosophical manifesto. After all, French women only got the vote in Beauvoir transformed all ideas of gender in The Second Sex , a magisterial work with no precedent.

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Beauvoir was probably a better young philosopher than Sartre—their professors thought so—and her body of work may turn out to be of more lasting social import. Her novels and memoirs were bestsellers in postwar France, and she may have created the opposition of Self and Other still credited to Sartre. Both Beauvoir and Holiday were defiant young artists and bisexual women in their early twenties. Holiday rolled as an equal on the bus with the Count Basie Orchestra in the late s, shooting dice, drinking, and carousing.

Beauvoir was a free-thinking novelist and philosopher, living with Sartre and taking all manner of lovers. So why does public memory and artistic history still ascribe the two women as either tragic and vulnerable Holiday or literary and secondary Beauvoir?

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Holiday was beloved by all black jazz musicians and writers, including Miles Davis, and was held up as a postwar voice of African-American resistance and historical suffering by everyone from James Baldwin to Malcolm X to more recently Angela Davis. The keynote of her performance style was the cool aesthetic of a relaxed attitude and, in addition, she often wore a mask of cool.

Cool was a postwar masculine aesthetic, and its paragon figures are ethical rebel loners. Cool is based on self -authorizing: its characteristics are independence, rebellion, and a capacity for violence.

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Wishing the Moon: The Life and Times of Billie Holiday

Lacking autonomy and agency, the female caretakers of homes, husbands, and children could hardly resonate in a similar manner in the cultural imagination. In addition, the dominant artistic genres that carried cool into American and global consciousness—jazz and film noir, philosophy and literature—were dominated by male authors and critics. Holiday wore a mask of cool, yet it was only perceived by African-Americans.

When amateur sociologists began constructing a canon of postwar cool in the s, it focused almost entirely on men. In crucial ways, Holiday and Beauvoir promulgated their own myths of passivity and deference to men in their memoirs and texts whether literary or musical.

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And so it is that a French philosopher chose to stand by her man rather than to claim her own intellectual inheritance as a rogue free agent. From starkly different backgrounds, Beauvoir and Holiday still mythologized their lives as beholden to a dominant man, whether an intellectual or a street hustler. The emphasis on drugs and victimization in Lady Sings the Blues has long been blamed on the racism of her co-writer William Dufty , yet we now know Holiday was a willing co-conspirator in the projection of a tragic damsel in need of rescue by powerful, often violent men.

After , her best friends from the Basie band often kept their distance rather than to become entangled in her junkie rounds—trumpeters Harry Edison and Buck Clayton, and most importantly, Lester Young.

Wishing on the Moon by Clarke

Trained in the blues, her performances partook of something close to group therapy as conducted by a social artist. Two images of Holiday point up the distance between her public image among white Americans and her artistic street cred among AfricanAmericans.


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Holiday appeared in a single Hollywood film— New Orleans —in which she played a jazz-singing maid. See our User Agreement and Privacy Policy. See our Privacy Policy and User Agreement for details. Published on May 7, SlideShare Explore Search You. Submit Search. Successfully reported this slideshow. We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime. Upcoming SlideShare.

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