In 1957, New York photojournalist Jerry Dantzic spent time with the iconic singer Billie Holiday during a week-long run of performances at the Newark, New Jersey, nightclub Sugar Hill. The resulting images offer a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of Billie with her family, friends, and her pet chihuahua, Pepe; playing with her godchild (son of her autobiography’s coauthor, William Dufty); washing dishes at the Duftys’ home; walking the streets of Newark; in her hotel room; waiting backstage or having a drink in front of the stage; and performing. The years and the struggles seem to vanish when she sings; her face lights up. Later that same year, Dantzic photographed her in color at the second New York Jazz Festival at Randall’s Island. Only a handful of the photographs in the book have ever been published. In her text, Zadie Smith evokes Lady Day herself and shows us what she sees as she inhabits these images and reveals what she is thinking.
This coffee table book features 100 photos and beautifully captures Holiday on a cigarette-hazed bandstand, wearing a bare-shouldered, sequined dress, performing songs such as ‘Fine and Mellow,’ ‘Don’t Explain,’ and ‘Strange Fruit.’ Taken one year after the publication of her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, and two years before her untimely death at age 44, the photos reveal a deeply personal and vibrant side of Holiday. Also included are…extensive technical photography notes by Jerry Dantzic’s son, Grayson, who is a photo archivist [and] a moving essay by novelist Smith.
— Publishers Weekly
Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill adds a quiet new dimension to the story we thought we knew about Holiday. With Jerry Dantzic, she revealed homier sides of her life which needed no explanations and invited no judgments: at home with her husband or her dog, or visiting her co-author and her godchild. In these images and in Mr. Dantzic's performance shots, she is not the tragic torch singer of myth but a middle-aged woman finding simple comforts from the maelstrom, no longer as sharp in her voice but undiminished in her ability to command a stage.
— New York Times' Lens
Dantzic’s high-contrast, black-and-white images of the singer on stage are powerful and iconic and reveal an artist truly in her element. Zadie Smith opens this collection with a reflection inspired by the photographs, an evocative stream-of-consciousness prose poem that suggests the mindset of Lady Day.
Jerry Dantzic was a photojournalist whose photographs have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Life, Look, Vanity Fair, and American Photo. His work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Grayson Dantzic, the son of Jerry Dantzic, is a photographer and photo archivist. He edited and wrote the introduction for Jerry Dantzic’s New York: The Fifties in Focus.
Zadie Smith is an English novelist, essayist, and short story writer.