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Joel E. Siegel, in “Lady Bountiful” (11/9), writes: “In her haste to disenfranchise non-African-American writers, [Farah Jasmine] Griffin fails to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of Holiday’s songs were composed by songwriters of European descent and that the instruments that accompany her and the tonal system they employ are also of European, rather than African, origin.” Without addressing the dubiousness of Siegel’s premises: Griffin might be guilty of any number of charges for offering a black feminist perspective on the significance of Billie Holiday, but disenfranchisement isn’t one of them.
In his haste to dismiss Griffin, Siegel should have been more selective in his choice of language. “To disenfranchise” is “to deprive of the right to exercise a franchise or privilege, especially to vote.” Unless I’m missing something, Griffin merely advanced one of what can be properly termed many competing perspectives on Lady Day. That her claim is couched in strong, uncertain language neither diminishes nor excludes the claims of others, including Siegel.