Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn
Within the Ellington organization, Strayhorn's homosexuality was never an issue. Duke accepted him as he was. Period. This was undoubtedly an important factor in Strayhorn's devotion to Ellington. One friend of Strayhorn's said: "Duke Ellington afforded Billy Strayhorn that acceptance. That was something that cannot be undervalued or underappreciated. To Billy, that was gold." Another friend added: "We all hid, every one of us, except Billy. He wasn't afraid. We were. And you know what the difference between us was? Duke Ellington."
Hajdu follows Strayhorn from Harlem to Hollywood to Paris, as he lives out the "lush life" of his fantasies. We are presented with vivid and memorable portraits of Strayhorn's friends and associates from various walks of life, including Lena Horne, Rachel and Jackie Robinson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers, as well as Ellingtonians like Ben Webster, Jimmy Blanton, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and most of the major figures in the jazz world. All of them, it seems, held Strayhorn in extraordinarily high regard, as a uniquely talented musician and as a man of rare intelligence and grace. By the end of this extremely personal account of Strayhorn's life, we have come to know him quite well and the tragic details of his final months are extremely distressing. David Hajdu has done an outstanding job of elucidating the complicated life of this enormously talented and too often overlooked artist. This is surely one of the best books ever written about jazz.