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The Origin of The Billie Holiday Memorial Foundation
The Billie Holiday Memorial Foundation was created by Nicole Holiday in 1972 in response to Billie’s portrayal in the 1972 movie “Lady Sings The Blues”. Though the movie was based in large part on the William Duffy book published in 1956; Billie’s ex-husband Lous McKay, played a large part in guiding the film. Thus the portrayal of Billie is really through the McKay lens – including casting himself as “Mr. Smooth” – Bille Dee Williams.
The movie is important as it is often the first contact many have with Billie today. It is important to frame the movie within the context of time and Billie’s own – often hidden – real life story.
Lady Sings the Blues (1956) is an autobiography by jazz singer Billie Holiday, which was co-authored by William Dufty. The book formed the basis of the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross.
The life story of jazz singer Billie Holiday told in her own words. Holiday writes candidly of sexual abuse, confinement to institutions, heroin addiction, and the struggles of being African American before the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.
According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Dufty’s aim was “to let Holiday tell her story her way. Fact checking wasn’t his concern.” Since its publication, the book has been criticized for factual inaccuracies.
In his introduction to the 2006 edition of Lady Sings the Blues, music biographer David Ritz writes: “(Holiday’s) voice, no matter how the Dufty/Holiday interviewing process went, is as real as rain.” Despite some factual inaccuracies, according to Ritz, “in the mythopoetic sense, Holiday’s memoir is as true and poignant as any tune she ever sang. If her music was autobiographically true, her autobiography is musically true.”
In his 2015 study of Holiday, Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, John Szwed argues that Lady Sings the Blues, is a generally accurate account of Holiday’s life, and that Holiday’s co-writer, William Dufty, was forced to water down or suppress material by the threat of legal action. The New Yorker reviewer Richard Brody writes: “In particular, Szwed traces the stories of two important relationships that are missing from the book—with Charles Laughton, in the nineteen-thirties, and with Tallulah Bankhead, in the late nineteen-forties—and of one relationship that’s sharply diminished in the book, her affair with Orson Welles around the time of Citizen Kane.”
- Hamlin, Jesse (September 18, 2006). “Billie Holiday’s bio, ‘Lady Sings the Blues,’ may be full of lies, but it gets at jazz great’s core”. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 6, 2015.
- New York Times
- Brody, Richard (April 3, 2015). “The Art of Billie Holiday’s Life”. The New Yorker. Retrieved April 6, 2015.