10 Great Quotes from “Lady Sings the Blues” by Billie Holiday (1956)

I recently read Billie Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. The book was co-authored by William Duffy and originally published in 1956. Here are ten quotes from this book that particularly stood out to me.

“You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation.”

“A victrola was a big deal in those days, and there weren’t any parlors around that had one except Alice’s. I spent many a wonderful hour there listening to Pops and Bessie. I remember Pops’ recording of ‘West End Blues’ and how it used to gas me. It was the first time I ever heard anybody sing without using any words.”

“I guess I’m not the only one who heard their first good jazz in a whorehouse. But I never tried to make anything of it. If I’d heard Louis and Bessie at a Girl Scout jamboree, I’d have loved it just the same.”

“They forget what it was like in those days. A whorehouse was about the only place where black and white folks could meet in any natural way. They damn well couldn’t rub elbows in the churches.”

“Everyone’s got to be different. You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing.”

“Even when they insult you they do it to your face. That’s the only way they can let you know they’re superior to you. They might die and leave you all their money, but somewhere in the fine print in that will they’ve got to let you know you were a good nigger but you’re still a nigger.”

“Whenever I had a couple of bucks it was always so little I was ashamed to send it home, so I would give it to Lester Young to invest. I hoped he could shoot enough dice to parlay it into a bill big enough I didn’t have to feel ashamed to send home.”

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, ‘Every broad for herself.’ Saying it and acting that way is one thing that’s kept some of us behind the eight ball where we’ve been living for a hundred years.”

“If you find a tune and it’s got something to do with you, you don’t have to evolve anything. You just feel it, and when you sing it other people can feel something too.”

“I’m always making a comeback, but nobody ever tells me where I’ve been.”

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I'm an international journalist, reporter, website editor and content creator. I actively work for JAZZIZ Magazine and FRED Film Radio, collaborate with other websites and curate my own projects, including IN ARTE MATT and CineCola. I have also curated and produced my series of films in Galway, Ireland, and photo exhibition and arts events in various European countries. I have a working class background and have and have a postgrad degree in Film Theory + a BA in Film & TV.

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