April 7, 2013

Happy Birthday: Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

Billie Holiday was born on this date in 1915 [SOURCE]. She was an African American vocalist, one of the greatest jazz-blues singers of all time, also known as Lady Day.

My primary knowledge of Billie Holiday was from the movie, Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross. Billie had a traumatic childhood.

Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, she spent an impoverished childhood in Baltimore before moving to New York City in the late 1920s, when she began singing in Harlem nightclubs. A recording session in 1935 brought her to public attention. Thereafter she was vocalist with various orchestras, including those of Count Basie and Artie Shaw, and made many recordings with the saxophonist Lester Young and with the pianist Teddy Wilson.

Throughout the 1940s and '50s Holiday appeared in clubs around the U.S. with great success, although her voice increasingly showed the effects of her long-term heroin addiction.

She died in Metropolitan Hospital, New York City, while under arrest for possession of illegal drugs. Holiday rarely sang traditional blues, but her reputation rests on her ability to transform popular songs into emotionally profound pieces.

What do you remember or admire about Billie Holiday?


Monica Roberts said...

One of my fave songs she sings is 'Strange Fruit', a song condemning lynching.

Reggie said...

She was a very talented lady and far too young to die.

I think her song "Strange Fruit" is a particularly interesting song.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Everytime I see a Magnolia tree I tend to think of this song.

Unknown said...

Reggie - Unfortunately, I tend to think of lynchings in America when I hear 'Strange Fruit'.