Billie Holiday and Etta James: The Lives and Legacies of the Famous Jazz Singers, Charles River Editors
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Billie Holiday and Etta James: The Lives and Legacies of the Famous Jazz Singers

Author: Charles River Editors

Narrator: Michelle Humphries

Unabridged: 2 hr 21 min

Format: Digital Audiobook

Publisher: Findaway Voices

Published: 03/18/2023

Genre: Biography & Autobiography - Composers & Musicians


If Billie Holiday wanted to become a jazz singer, she chose the best of all eras in which to attempt it. A wave of great jazz and jazz/pop crossover artists swept over the United States from the 1920s through the 1950s, generating a golden age for the genre. This wondrous jazz era was well represented by both black and white master artists, men, women, vocalists, and instrumentalists, and Billie Holiday has stood the test of time as well as any, despite struggling with an environment that easily could have doomed such aspirations. Holiday “rewrote the rules” of jazz singing by using her voice not to imitate other singers, but by taking on the style of movement and sound common to jazz instruments. On top of that, she took the moderately employed practice of singing off the beat and brought it to the rhythmic forefront of virtually everything she sang.

Etta James, the legendary jazz, gospel, rhythm & blues, and soul singer, was perfectly positioned to reign as the supreme artist in the emerging soul genre of the ‘40s and ‘50s in America. No one ever doubted her talent, the highly distinctive and versatile nature of her voice, or her drive to succeed, and yet, she has been “woefully overlooked” in the history of indigenous rock and blues music in the United States. She is famous and recognized for several iconic hits with which she is eternally associated, such as “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “At Last,” but her place in the pantheon of great soul artists is unsteady and not always instantly recognizable by those outside of a knowledgeable group of devotees. For the rest of soul music’s listeners, mention of her name will result in a hasty inclusion into the inner circle of leading artists, as though James had been momentarily forgotten. Once the object of focus, however, she is revered as one of the titans of the genre, and those who had allowed her to slip from their minds are immediately reawakened to her powerful vocal and interpretive gifts.


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