Nichelle Gainer planned to release her published collection of Billie Holiday photographs and tributes on the music legend’s April 7 birthday.
But the first pre-orders of the book wouldn’t arrive until more than two months later. Instead of promoting the book on its planned release day, Gainer tweeted about the unusual dilemma, which she learned about from her publisher’s freight broker.
“Lady Day: Body & Soul” was stuck in the mud in the Chesapeake Bay.
Gainer had spent about two years researching, compiling and editing the 100-page coffee table book — only for it to spend its release date inside a shipping container aboard the Evergreen Ever Forward, grounded on the Maryland side of the U.S.’s largest estuary.
The book’s journey exemplified some common, and less common, problems facing international supply chains. And it taught Gainer a hard-earned lesson all too familiar to industry professionals: Disruption doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
“I mean, my books are one thing,” Gainer said in April, “but who knows what else is on that ship?”
Scanning headlines for updates
“Lady Day: Body & Soul” set sail from Shenzhen, China, early in the year, dodging the COVID-19 lockdowns that halted operations in the manufacturing hub in March. The books were destined for New York, where their shipping container would be offloaded and hauled by truck to a warehouse in Pennsylvania.
The ship’s monthlong mid-Atlantic debacle, which the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating, began on March 13 when the vessel became stuck in several feet of mud just north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge after calling in Baltimore.
Crews spent a month unloading hundreds of containers to help the cargo ship float, succeeding on April 17. At this stage, Gainer and her publisher confronted a frustration many companies grapple with as they navigate complex supply chains: limited visibility.
After receiving the initial notice of the ship running aground, they had little means of tracking their box. They weren’t dealing directly with Evergreen, and their broker couldn’t tell them how much longer the books would be delayed or whether their container was among those being lifted by crane onto barges to help dislodge the vessel.
“They were going to try and free the ship, that's all we knew,” Conway said. “From that point, we would get the most up-to-date information we could from various newspaper websites.”
After escaping the Chesapeake unscathed and reclaiming the unloaded containers, the Ever Forward sailed on to Norfolk, Virginia. The cargo ship then endured another wait on the water — in a queue outside the congested Port of New York — before it offloaded the container of books.
“So frustrating this is taking so long,” Gainer’s publisher, Rocket 88 Books, tweeted in response to an inquiring customer on May 9. “Probably another week or so.”
On May 30, Gainer announced the books had made it off the ship in New York.
An ode to ‘the essence of cool’
Gainer sourced photographs and quotes from an array of magazines, museums and collections for “Lady Day: Body & Soul.”
Whoopi Goldberg wrote the book’s foreword, calling Holiday “one of the most moving women that we’ve ever seen and that we’ve ever heard.”
Towering figures in jazz and blues emphasize Holiday’s influence. Miles Davis says her voice “doesn’t need horns. She sounds like one anyway.” Etta James attests to growing up hearing her mother play “nothing but Billie Holiday.” Duke Ellington calls Holiday “the essence of cool.”
The photos convey a series of elegant and everyday moments in Holiday’s life. Some show a musician belting into a microphone and rehearsing with bandmates around a piano. In others, she reclines in a robe, laughs with friends and pets her beloved Mister the Boxer and chihuahuas, Pepé and Chiquita.
The result is a powerful photographic ode to the life and legacy of the legendary Baltimore-born vocalist, whose struggles with addiction sometimes overshadowed her accomplishments.
“The story that I grew up learning about Billie Holiday was that she was a drug addict who had a tragic life,” Gainer said. “You would think that she only had a terrible, sad life. Her entire life, not an ounce of joy. … I really liked to focus on [her] artistic and creative work, not the tragedy.”
Gainer and the independent publisher collaborated with the Billie Holiday estate on the project. Rocket 88 directly sells and distributes its books, which primarily focus on music, and it previously released Gainer’s two “Vintage Black Glamour” books.
Some of Rocket 88’s other ocean shipments have encountered bad weather or congestion outside busy ports, said managing director John Conway. One sat for three weeks waiting for an available truck to pick it up, Conway said.
The publisher has become accustomed to “general COVID stuff” throwing off shipping schedules, he said. But “Lady Day: Body & Soul” was the first shipment to be stuck on a grounded ship.
Most other situations, Conway said, are “not as dramatic.”
‘I wasn’t expecting it to be immediate’
Tara Haynes received her copy in California in mid-June, about 10 weeks after the initial release date.
The wait for “Lady Day,” which she ordered from the publisher’s website late last year, didn’t bother Haynes “since it’s beautiful,” she told Supply Chain Dive in a Twitter message.
Despite the delay, her pre-order included email notifications when the shipment was fulfilled and shipped, Haynes said.
“I’m not super surprised given the pandemic and supply chain issues,” Haynes wrote about the wait, adding: “It’s not Amazon, so I wasn’t expecting it to be immediate.”
"It’s not Amazon, so I wasn’t expecting it to be immediate."
Member of the “Lady Day: Body & Soul” Ring of Honour, who received her copy in mid-June
Upon learning about “Lady Day: Body & Soul,” Douglas Kent said he, too, would order a copy.
Kent, the executive vice president of strategy and alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management, said the book’s journey reflected cascading disruptions crashing into carefully scheduled supply chains.
“These crashes are just making it nearly impossible to have any smooth flow-through that is predictable,” he said.
While global shipping hasn’t become much more reliable, it has become more expensive. Shipping containers cost eight to 10 times more than they did two years ago, and airfreight rates have tripled in the past six months alone, Kent said.
As he placed his order, Kent noticed the 26-pound (equivalent to about $31) shipping price for “Lady Day: Body & Soul,” compared to the 66-pound (about $79) price of the book.
“Almost every mode of transport these days is unpredictable, either in the assurance of that supply — did it arrive when I thought it was going to arrive? — and/or the associated costs,” Kent said.
“Companies are getting smarter about trying to analyze different scenarios to say ... ‘When is it that I should be rethinking that network?’”