Certainly no singer has been more mythologized and more misunderstood than Billie Holiday, who helped to create much of the mystique herself with her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues.
"Now, finally, we have a definitive biography," said Booklist of Donald Clarke's Billie Holiday, "by a deeply compassionate, respectful, and open-minded biographer [whose] portrait embraces every facet of Holiday's paradoxical nature, from her fierceness to her vulnerability, her childlikeness to her innate elegance and amazing strength."
Clarke was given unrivaled access to a treasure trove of interviews from the 1970s — interviews with those who knew Lady Day from her childhood in the streets and good-time houses of Baltimore through the early days of success in New York and into the years of fame, right up to her tragic decline and death at the age of forty-four.
Clarke uses these interviews to separate fact from fiction and, in the words of the Seattle Times, "finally sets us straight. . .evoking her world in all its anguish, triumph, force and irony." Newsday called this "a thoroughly riveting account of Holiday and her milieu." The New York Times raved that it "may be the most thoroughly valuable of the many books on Holiday," and Helen Oakley Dance in JazzTimes said, "We should probably have to wait a long time for another life of Billie Holiday to supersede Donald Clarke's achievement."