“He’s My Man!”: Lyrics of Innocence and Betrayal in The People v. Billie Holiday

Date

2004

Authors

Ramshaw, Sara

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Volume Title

Publisher

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law

Abstract

This article explores the 1949 arrest, trial, and acquittal of prominent jazz singer, Billie Holiday, for possession of narcotics. It argues that Holiday's well-publicized encounters with the United States legal system and with abusive men in the years leading up to this trial worked to blur the distinction between her private anguish and the pain she sang about in her songs. These real life problems gave her public image heightened authenticity and her public performances the appearance of truthfulness and honesty. This image, in turn, added credibility to her testimony in the courtroom and enabled the jury to overlook the evidence (or lack thereof) in front of them. In the end, her "unlucky in life" public personal, an image configured from the same myths and stereotypes that typically operate to silence and trivialize black women's pain, instead facilitated the articulation of Holiday's narrative of innocence and betrayal in the courtroom and the acceptance of this narrative as truth by the members of the (white) jury.

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Citation

Sara Ramshaw, “He’s My Man!”: Lyrics of Innocence and Betrayal in The People v. Billie Holiday” (2004) 16:1 CJWL 86