Wishing on the Moon
Donald Clarke

Book cover image

Narrated By: Anna Fields

Duration: 17 hours and 46 minutes

What to expect

No singer has been more mythologized and more misunderstood than jazz legend Billie Holiday, who helped to create much of the mystique herself with her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. This authentic biography sets the record straight. Donald Clarke was given unrivaled access to a treasure trove of interviews from the 1970s with those who knew Lady Day in all stages of her short, tragic lifeā€”from her childhood in the streets and good-time houses of Baltimore, through the early days of success in New York and the years of fame, to her tragic decline and death at the age of forty-four. This biography separates fact from fiction to reveal the true Billie Holiday.


Biography: arts and entertainment, Composers and songwriters, Musicians, singers, bands and groups, Biography: general, Ethnic studies, Biography: arts and entertainment, Biography: general, Gender studies: women and girls, History of music, Music reviews and criticism, Popular music

Listen to a sample

“May be the most thorough and valuable of the many books on Holiday.”

New York Times Book Review

“A thoroughly riveting account of Holiday and her milieu.”

Newsday (Long Island, NY)

“Finally sets us straight about the late singer, evoking her world in all of its anguish, triumph, force, and irony. It’s a remarkable story, and long overdue.”

Seattle Times

“We should probably have to wait a long time for another life of Billie Holiday to supersede Donald Clarke’s achievement.”


“In Clarke’s remarkably insightful biography, a joy to read, the singer emerges as a vulnerable woman who had unrewarding affairs with unsuitable men out of her fear of deeper love…This marvelously evocative portrait places her performances firmly in the African American subculture from which they sprang…Crammed with jazz history and lore and sketches of legendary musicians, this biography will have great appeal for Holiday fans and jazz followers.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Numerous quoted characters offer vivid anecdotes. Fields emphasizes their contributions with thoughtfulness and precision. Her voice asserts ample personality when necessary and explicit description is needed. Emerging from this profile is a complex story of race relations, drug abuse, discography, and a legendary jazz singer.”


“Clarke bases this substantial biography on transcripts of interviews made in the early 1970s with dozens of people close to Billie Holiday. One of his recurring themes is the often contradictory statements made by Holiday and William Duffy in Lady Sings the Blues; Clarke sets the record straight with page after page of verbatim testimony from Billie’s cohorts, keeping his own interpretive biographical commentary to a minimum. His intelligent organization of the material is supplemented with evidence of solid background reading, and lively, articulate discussions of the recordings reveal Clarke’s great love of the Lady’s music. The singer, her songs, and her society are warmly illuminated in this well-done, major work. Recommended.”

Library Journal

“Finally, we have a definitive biography that not only chronicles every phase of Holiday’s ascent from the streets of Baltimore to the stages of New York’s hottest nightclubs and most prestigious concert halls but also documents every significant recording session, performance, and tour. Clarke is a deeply compassionate, respectful, and open-minded biographer with a thorough understanding of the racist, puritanical culture within which Holiday wrought her powerful and sensual art…Clarke has constructed a documentary-style, multivoiced narrative loaded with vivid anecdotes. We meet the great musicians Holiday worked with, including the inspired, eccentric Lester Young, and the slick, abusive men she took as lovers and husbands. Clarke’s portrait embraces every facet of Holiday’s paradoxical nature, from her fierceness to her vulnerability, her childlikeness to her innate elegance and amazing strength. An uneducated genius with a fatal appetite for pleasure and pain, Holiday embodied and expressed all that is human, all that is terrible and sublime.”