A HUNDRED DAYS LIVED IN JUST ONE
Billie Holiday (1915-1959) was perhaps the greatest singer in the history of jazz. Her voice like a “provocative cat”, as Boris Vian described it, captivating generations of fans, from Frank Sinatra to Barack Obama. Her life is often compared to Édith Piaf’s: terrible childhood, alcohol, drugs, prison, sex, talent, the art of giving herself and death, at 44.
But do people know about her European tour in November 1958? That year “Lady Day” performed in Milan and Paris, where she sang at the Olympia and the Mars Club, a small American club on the Champs-Élysées. For a month she gave the best and worst of herself, as if presenting herself in her raw state one last time.
It is this forgotten episode that Philippe Broussard brings back to life here. Almost sixty years on, he has dug up archives and photographs, and found over a dozen French, Italian and American witnesses. Getting close to the declining Billie Holiday, the author recreates the very distinctive world of hotels and clubs peopled by black jazz artists exiled in France. The singer attracts the stars of the day (Sagan, Bardot, Duke Ellington...) to the Mars Club, but also night owls carried by gin and heroin. Following in her wake, the reader experiences the successive sleepless nights teetering between laughter and tears. Broussard also evaluates 1958 as a turning point: in Italy Fellini was in preproduction on La Dolce Vita; in France, the young were rebelling, the Fifth Republic was established and the New Wave had begun.
Philippe Broussard, is editor of the “Investigations” department of L’Express, having won the 1993 Prix Albert Londres as a special correspondent for Le Monde. He has written or co-written ten books, including La prisonnière de Lhassa (Stock, 2001) and La disparue de San Juan (Stock, 2011).
Dans ce livre, construit comme un roman mais nourri uniquement de faits réels, l’auteur reconstitue au jour le jour cet épisode méconnu de la carrière de Billie Holiday. Il se lance sur les traces d’une « Lady Day » indomptable, retrouve des témoins oubliés et plonge le lecteur dans l’atmosphère troublante de la fin des années cinquante.