Book Review: If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: in Search of Billie Holiday

Topics: Genius Pages: 4 (1553 words) Published: October 30, 2012
Farah Jasmine Griffin’s In Search Of Billie Holiday: If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery is an inspiring analysis of Billie Holiday that pairs Griffin’s passion for the singer with a deep critical examination that deconstructs the myth of Billie Holiday that has been perpetuated through her “autobiography,” the media, the Academy Award nominated biopic Lady Sings the Blues, as well as countless biographies that construct a tragic mulatto narrative around the vocal genius. Though I was only familiar with the myth of Holiday, a brief discography of the jazz icon, as well as the 1972 film based off of Holiday’s biography starring Diana Ross, Griffin’s critical engagement with Holiday is not only an enlightening piece of scholarship, but also a moving piece of work that provides young scholars such as myself a model where our voices can be located. Examining Holiday through a highly critical and assessable lens, Griffin opens up conversations on music, race, gender, and Holiday to a broader audience then the confines of typical academic literature. “This book is a result of [her] desire to write honestly and in a different voice about something that is as meaning to [her] spiritually and emotionally as it is intellectually” and through crafting an Afrocentric approach to her analysis, Griffin’s voice is a welcomed addition to the archive research and interviews she has conducted for this labor of love (p. 6). Though the subject manner and critical analysis of In Search Of Billie Holiday deserve praise in there own right, being a young scholar I am so inspired by Griffin’s writing technique that allowed for her voice to shine in addition to the cultural artifacts that she accumulated to build her argument. With regards to the subject matter of In Search Of Billie Holiday, this case study of Holiday is an excellent epigraph of how to construct a critical piece of accessible scholarship. Griffin’s investigation into the nomer genius and Black women that...
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