Magazine article The New Yorker

New Translation

Magazine article The New Yorker

New Translation

Article excerpt

NEW TRANSLATION

The title of the Egyptian funerary papyrus "Book of the Dead" is more accurately translated as "Coming Forth by Day." It was called "Book of the Dead" by Wallis Budge, who translated the manuscript for the British Museum, in 1895. "Coming Forth by Day" is also the title of Cassandra Wilson's new record, which is an homage to Billie Holiday, who would have turned one hundred on April 7th.

The other morning, Wilson visited the Egyptian wing of the Met, waiting in the security line among schoolchildren on field trips. She has long, caramel-colored hair, and she wore large dark glasses with black frames. The night before, she had flown in from Paris, and she wasn't feeling great. "I need a Bloody Mary," she said. "That's my regimen when I have an upset stomach." At the cafe, though, she bought a water instead and sat at a table by one of the windows looking out on Central Park.

"Jazz musicians in Jackson, Mississippi, introduced me to Holiday's music," Wilson said. "I grew up in Jackson, and I went to Millsaps College there in the seventies, but I didn't graduate. I was studying philosophy, and when we got to Hegel's dialectics I thought, This is the perfect time for me to get out of here. Hegel was driving me crazy."

Outside, on the lawn, a dog scattered a flock of sparrows. "I started performing her song 'God Bless the Child,' which has the line 'that's got his own,' " Wilson continued. "My mother used to say that to me--'that's got a job.' My mother was a teacher. My father was a musician. He started off playing the violin. He had lessons beginning around the age of seven, then he picked up playing the trumpet in the Army band. He was from a place called Chicago Heights. He grew up among people who were Scots-Irish, Jewish, and Creole. When I say Creole, I mean black people who separated themselves from black society because of the color of their skin. They used to have brown-bag parties. You were in if your complexion was lighter than a brown paper bag. My father went down South to get away from all that. He met my mother at a dance at Camp Shelby, in Hattiesburg. He went overseas, and when he came back they were married. My mother was very, very dark, richly dark. …

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