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Originating from the Latin for “deity” or “goddess,” the term “diva” has evolved to become a far more complex—and loaded—term. Delving into public and private personas of performers from Jenny Lind to Sarah Bernhardt, Nina Simone to Rihanna, this book looks at what it means to be a “diva” and how this has been subverted and embraced over time.
Editor Kate Bailey opens the book with an essay on the transformation of the diva from 19th-century opera and stage star to the 20th-century silent screen siren. Six thematic chapters focus on different aspects of diva-dom: “Performing the Diva” looks at how Hollywood icons Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Davis cultivated their personas through their approach to costume and attitude, and how this has been taken up by performers such as Cher, Elton John, and Mariah Carey; “Voice for Change” discusses the political activism of artists such as Billie Holiday and Miriam Makeba; “Status, Power, and Freedom” explores the agency and brand acumen shown by artists including Dolly Parton and Beyonce; “Rebel Reinvention” touches on the pursuit of radical new ways of performing via the work of Debbie Harry, Madonna, Missy Elliott, Lady Gaga, and others; “Liberating the Diva” considers the way that musicians such as Tina Turner, Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones, and Miley Cyrus have played with expectations for gender and sexuality; and, finally, “All By Myself” examines the tensions between public and private life experienced by the likes of Britney Spears and Liza Minnelli.
Illustrated with more than 100 color photographs of dynamic performance pictures and sumptuous stage costumes, Diva is a look at the glamour, celebrity, fashion, and feminism inherent in being designated a “diva.”