What is the difference between The Lady Sings The Blues book and the play Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both the book, The Lady Sings The Blues, and the play, Lady Day At Emerson Bar and Grill, tell the story of Billie Holiday (1915-1959), an American jazz singer and song-writer.

The difference between the two is that the book is an autobiography of Holiday's life, while the play centers on an actress (acting as Holiday) singing tunes which tell of the most pertinent experiences of Holiday's life.

You can read a biography of Billie Holiday at the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) website here.

As for Holiday's autobiography, some contend that the book consists of factual inaccuracies. However, many critics admit that the book highlights the authenticity of Holiday's unique voice as she tells the story of her colorful life. From the pages of The Lady Sings The Blues, Holiday speaks poignantly about abusive relationships, heroin addiction, the Jim Crow laws and racism, incarceration, alcoholism, and teenage prostitution. Holiday's autobiography was released simultaneously with her album of the same name, in 1956. The 1972 film of Holiday, starring Diana Ross as Holiday, and Billy Dee Williams as her husband, Louis McKay, was loosely based on Holiday's autobiography.

You can read a review of Billie Holiday's book here.

As for the play, Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill, the most famous Broadway performance of Billie Holiday's story is the one in which the inimitable Audra McDonald stars as Holiday. McDonald's performance won her critical acclaim and many awards. In between famous tunes like What a Little Moonlight Can Do and T'aint Nobody's Business If I Do, McDonald, as Holiday, recounts tales of love lost and of supreme heartache.

You can see the Broadway website describing Audra McDonald's performance here. The last Broadway performance of Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill was in 2014.

A critique of the play by the New York Times can be read here.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Lady Sings the Blues was Billie Holiday's autobiography, written with the help of writer and activist William Dufty; it was published in 1956. The book, written in Holiday's voice, was her account of her life, and she made no attempt to cover up its rough patches, including racism, prostitution, abusive relationships, and drug use. Since its publication, the book has come under fire for its factual errors. For example, Holiday writes that her parents were married when they were teenagers (and when she was three). However, her parents were never married. Despite its inaccuracies, many people praise the book for capturing the essence of who Holiday was and what jazz was like during its heyday. The voice in the book is distinctive and genuine. 

The play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, written by Lanie Robertson, opened in Atlanta in 1986 and was then produced Off-Broadway before it opened on Broadway in 2014. During the play, the actress playing Holiday performs in a seedy Philadelphia bar in 1959, shortly before Holiday's death at age 44 from cirrhosis of the liver. At the time, Holiday was suffering from heroin addiction, and she was no longer allowed to play in New York clubs after her cabaret license had been revoked in 1947 because of a drug bust. The play features musical numbers, such as "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child," along with Holiday speaking about episodes in her past. Much of the material comes from Holiday's book. Like Holiday's book, the play discusses many of the painful episodes in the singer's life, including her tragic childhood, her abusive relationships with men, and her drug use. 

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