Friday Reads: Bitter Crop: The Heartache and Triumph of Billie Holiday’s Last Year by Paul Alexander

A revelatory look at the tumultuous life of a jazz legend and American cultural icon

“A book written as only one artist could view another, with insight and sincere compassion.” —Sandra Cisneros, best-selling author of Woman Without Shame

In the first biography of Billie Holiday in more than two decades, Paul Alexander—author of heralded lives of Sylvia Plath and J. D. Salinger—gives us an unconventional portrait of arguably America’s most eminent jazz singer. He shrewdly focuses on the last year of her life—with relevant flashbacks to provide context—to evoke and examine the persistent magnificence of Holiday’s artistry when it was supposed to have declined, in the wake of her drug abuse, relationships with violent men, and run-ins with the law.

During her lifetime and after her death, Billie Holiday was often depicted as a down-on-her-luck junkie severely lacking in self-esteem. Relying on interviews with people who knew her, and new material unearthed in private collections and institutional archives, Bitter Crop—a reference to the last two words of Strange Fruit, her moving song about lynching—limns Holiday as a powerful, ambitious woman who overcame her flaws to triumph as a vital figure of American popular music.


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