Billie Holiday and the Gendered Politics of Jazz Creativity

Taylor, Jasmin. 2020. Billie Holiday and the Gendered Politics of Jazz Creativity. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis investigates little-explored aspects of the creative work of the jazz vocalist Billie Holiday (1915-1959): specifically, it examines the creative processes surrounding more than twenty songs she wrote herself or co-wrote with friends and colleagues, some of which were published posthumously and others which have never been published, although credited to her. Using gender as a mode of analysis, the study tracks her musical writing across the artist’s life, providing an alternative reading of extant Holiday material in order to differently illustrate and interpret her agency in general. Throughout, “creativity” is used as a term to encompass song writing, performance and the collaborative assembly of individuals in the service of music making.

The thesis begins with a sketch of Holiday’s life and music, and an analysis of transformations which have occurred in critical appraisals of her career. Subsequent chapters present the concepts of gender, standpoint theory and intersectionality that underpin the thesis’s interdisciplinary methodological approach; a discussion of Holiday’s distinctive performance style and musical aesthetics in the context of gender inequalities within the jazz community; an investigation of the creative processes surrounding the songs Holiday wrote herself; and finally, an in-depth case study that discusses problems surrounding the attribution to Holiday of the song “Strange Fruit.”

The thesis demonstrates that Holiday did not perceive her song writing as being distinct from the activity she entered into every time she recorded or performed. It is argued that Holiday’s perspectives on her own song writing helped shape her distinctive performance style, and that, even though the jazz community could be a challenging environment for women, its masculine hegemony was not total: some women, like Holiday, occupied and managed spaces as active, creative and even political agents.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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Billie Holiday; Creative Agency; Gender; Race; Women’s Jazz History; Sexism; Standpoint Theory; Intersectionality; Black Feminist Thought; Hyper-Masculinity and the Jazz Community; Female Jazz Networks; Song Writing; Jazz Composition and Improvisation; Gender and Appropriation; “Strange Fruit”; Auteur Theory; Political Activism.

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31 December 2020

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Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2021 16:20

Last Modified:

18 Jun 2021 16:20


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