Jerry Dantzic: Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill
JERRY DANTZIC: BILLIE HOLIDAY AT SUGAR HILL is an intimate and compelling photographic portrait of Billie Holiday, the consummate jazz and blues singer and one of 20th-century music’s most iconic figures, in April 1957 at a significant moment in her life just two years before her death at the age of 44. The previous year her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues had been published, she had performed a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, and she had just married in March. Now she was starting a week-long engagement at Sugar Hill, a club in Newark, New Jersey. Freelance photojournalist Jerry Dantzic had an assignment from Decca Records to photograph her and the Sugar Hill gig was the perfect occasion. He also happened to know William Dufty, the co-author of her autobiography, who introduced him into Billie’s private world.
Dantzic’s images offer an unparalleled view of Billie Holiday in private as well as in public, performing and the transitions in between. Though the wear and tear of a life of hardship, racism, drugs and drinking, and abusive men is revealed, we also see her warmth and tenderness, her rich humanity. We catch glimpses of her strolling Broad Street in Newark, encountering fans, with her new husband, Louis McKay; we see her at home with William and Maely Dufty and their son Bevan, her godchild; and while having a drink or doing her makeup, as well as cuddling her pet Chihuahua. The years and the struggles seem to vanish when she sings. However much she was “hurt and hurting,” in Nat Hentoff’s phrase, she becomes angelic. Dantzic would also photograph her later that year at the 2nd New York Jazz Festival at Randall’s Island, and the book also includes some of those images.