Jackson’s own Meredith Coleman McGee has done it again – Billie Holiday: Jazz Singer, her 13th book in 11 years; and 2024 is just starting

Singer/songwriter/recording artist Tawanna Shaunte

By Christopher Young,

Contributing Writer,

Author and publisher Meredith Coleman McGee Photos BY Chris Young

The Book Release Party, hosted by the author at her South Jackson home, January 27, 2024, was uplifting, inspiring and deeply informative. Meredith Coleman McGee is a treasure, and to watch her and listen as she shared about the writing of this 266-page biography of Billie Holiday, while standing before her fireplace in her jammed packed den, was a gift. It was a Master Class in professionalism, poise, determination and achievement. She wore Asian Lillies in her hair since there are no live gardenias available, like Lady Day wore.

Born in Los Angeles, after her parents’ exodus from the inferno of racism and violence in the early 60’s Mississippi, she returned at age five. From work as a paralegal, to founding the Heirs United Investment Club, to serving on numerous boards and commissions, to establishing her own small press and publishing scores of poems and books, she stands out in a crowd despite being soft-spoken and unassuming. That’s the special mojo of Meredith Coleman McGee. It’s rare not to see her at community events focused on helping others or on the arts. 

Coleman McGee acknowledges that Billie Holiday: Jazz Singer, “is the biggest book in my life, so far” – her 13th book, seven of which are children’s books.

“Billie Holiday died over sixty-four years ago. She was a historic figure, and her place in music is larger than life. At age 18 she became the defining voice in jazz – an ordinary girl in Harlem,” said Coleman McGee.

She went on to convey a beautiful story of how Holiday was discovered by John H. Hammond, a record scout for Columbia Records, while she was walking from table to table in a restaurant singing for tips and without a microphone, trying to help her mother pay rent. After bringing in other Columbia staff to witness her sing, they offered her a recording deal because of her sound – the embedded drawl and phrasing that were so different from Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith. Yet it was Commodore Records who recorded Strange Fruit with the Café Society house band, in 1939, when patronage of New York clubs were still segregated. The song became one of the most impactful protest songs in history. 

When answering a question about her research for the book, she pointed to a stack of over a dozen books and a stack of articles well over a foot high – representing a portion of her research material.

She shared a Holiday quote, “No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music, or it isn’t music.” She shared how Holiday’s stage name came about when she was just 17. Her birth name was Eleanora Harris (Fagan/Gough), and her father’s name was Clarence Holiday. He called her Bill as a child as she was tomboyish, and also, her favorite silent film actor was Billie Dove  – hence Billie Holiday.

Another special treat was having Tawanna Shaunte, who wrote the forward to the book, in attendance to support the author. She graciously accepted the request to read the foreword aloud for the audience.

Shaunte is a multi-talented singer-songwriter, recording artist and much more. Intermingled with sharing about being asked to write the foreword and doing so, she recalled that she was just sixteen when she was first inspired by Billie Holiday and then broke forth in song with the first verse and the chorus of one of Holiday’s signature songs – “God Bless The Child.” She said, “Who doesn’t remember ‘Them that’s got shall have, Them that’s not shall lose, So the Bible said and it still is news … Mama may have, Papa may have, But God bless the child that’s got his own, that’s got his own.’”

Touching upon aspects of Holiday’s often tumultuous life that ended with heart failure at age 44, she ends the foreword saying, “…reflects light on society’s complexities as a reminder that you don’t have to be perfect to create meaningful change.”

When The Mississippi Link asked, “Meredith…13 books in 11 years…is that a true statement? She replied, “Yes, it’s true,” as the entire room erupted in applause. Her first published book was Married to Sin, the story of Darlene Dantzler Collier, and after receiving six rejection letters, Collier suggested they open a publishing company – Mose Dantzler Press. Coleman McGee started her own publishing company soon thereafter – MEREDITH ETC. Her books can be purchased at https://meredithetc.com or all major booksellers. To date, she has published 38 print books, 39 eBooks and 12 audiobooks by 22 different authors.

In response to a clever question, Coleman McGee answered, “You should read Billie Holiday: Jazz Singer because it covers her entire life, from birth to being raised in Baltimore, to expanding her own voice in Harlem and Manhattan, through her being the first featured singer in an integrated club, and it also introduces you to jazz.”

Her previous titles include: Baby Bubba and Kay, Juneteenth: Freedom Day, Every Inch Love Will, Midnight Moon, Odyssey, Nashida: Visits Mississippi’s Old Capitol Museum, James Meredith: Warrior and the America that created him, Nashida: Visits the Smith Robertson Museum, Nashida: Visits the Mississippi State Capitol, Married to Sin, Casada al Pecado, My Picture Dictionary and My First Book Series (a volume of six primer books).

Truly a wonderful event for this special writer, who is also the niece of James Meredith. We wish her continued success on her abundant writing journey. 

Contact Meredith Coleman McGee at https://meredithetc.com for more information.

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