Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Lady and the Lotus

“The lotus has a life cycle unlike any other plant. With its roots latched in mud, it submerges every night into river water and miraculously re-blooms the next morning, sparklingly clean.”


In yesterday’s Jazz History class, I talked about the swamp of racism and jazz as the triumph of the human spirit, the flowering of beauty arising from the muck and the mire. We then went on to learn about Billie Holiday, her life-story, her music, her courage and character.  I shared this quote about her 1956 Carnegie Hall Concert, where a narrator read some excerpts from her newly published autobiography and then commented:


“It was evident, even then, that Miss Holiday was ill. I had known her casually over the years and I was shocked at her physical weakness. Her rehearsal had been desultory; her voice sounded tinny and trailed off; her body sagged tiredly.”


The years of racism, sexual abuse, drug abuse, life on the road, life in jail, relentless persecution from  federal authorities, the whole swamp of culturally and institutionally-approved cruelty, had taken its toll, was wearing her down. She was only 41 years old but already in physical and mental decline. And then: 


“But I will not forget the metamorphosis that night. The lights went down, the musicians began to play and the narration began. Miss Holiday stepped from between the curtains, into the white spotlight awaiting her, wearing a white evening gown and white gardenias in her black hair. She was erect and beautiful; poised and smiling. And when the first section of narration was ended, she sang – with strength undiminished – with all of the art that was hers.”


There it was—the miraculous re-blooming as Lady Day steps into the spotlight, that “sparkling clean” spirit and soul in the midst of one of the most difficult lives one could imagine. 


The lotus in the swamp. 

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