When Maya Angelou met Billie Holiday
FIRST ENCOUNTERS SOREL AND SOREL Two women from the wrong side of the tracks who found fame. The third in a series of memorable meetings drawn by the distinguished American illustrator Edward Sorel and written by Nancy Caldwell Sorel. Last week, Oscar Wil Charlotte Corday and Jean- Paul Marat
Saturday 22 July 1995
But her nonchalance quickly gave way to nerves. Billie Holiday was more than a woman; she was Lady Day, she was legend. She had teamed up with the greats - Lester Young, Benny Goodman, Count Basie - and broken ground as a black woman singer with an all-white band. Then there was the flip side - the dark past, the time served, the long addictions to drugs and alcohol, all too apparent in the ravaged figure now walking in the door.
At first Angelou found her guest hostile, her conversation a melee of sarcasm and obscenities. But after lunch - fried chicken, rice, Arkansas gravy - Holiday softened. Maya was a nice lady, and a good cook, too, she said. When Wilkerson got up to leave, she opted to stay. Angelou felt herself being watched. "You a square, ain't you?" Holiday said. Angelou admitted that she was.
Guy, aged 12, came home from school. He was introduced, and proved charming. Holiday forgot that she couldn't stand children ("little crumb-crushers") and followed him out to water the lawn. She told him about all the low- down men she had known in her life, but she was careful to curb her profanity. After dinner she sang him a good-night song - "You're My Thrill".
Holiday spent five days with Angelou, and not until the end did she revert to her angry self. On the last evening she was abusive to Guy; she accompanied Maya to the nightclub and shouted her off the stage. Lady Day was some complicated woman. At parting she left Angelou with a two-edged prophecy: "You're going to be famous," she said. "But it won't be for singing."
Taken from 'First Encounters', published by Knopf, New York
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
- 2 Before you complain about your GP, this is what you need to know about actually doing the job
- 3 UK's biggest male rape charity Survivors UK has state funding slashed to zero despite 120% rise in men reporting sexual violence and seeking help
- 4 'Don't blame all men for rape' campaign backfires spectacularly
- 5 Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: not a Mexican demon being summoned — it's gravity
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Grace of Monaco film panned: Screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman as movie gets US debut
Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi's sex life
Suicide Squad: leaked footage shows first look at Batmobile chasing Joker through city streets
ASAP Rocky sparks outrage with misogynistic lyrics about Rita Ora in new song 'Better Things'
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'