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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Singer (1915 - 1959)
Billie Holiday, a popular figure in jazz, was a gifted singer with an amazing voice and whose personal life was chaotic and troubled. Billie Holiday, a musical legend still popular today, died an untimely death at the age of 44. Her emotive voice, innovative techniques and touching songs will forever be remembered and enjoyed.

Billie Holiday was a true artist of her day and rose as a social phenomenon in the 1950s. Her soulful, unique singing voice and her ability to boldly turn any material that she confronted into her own music made her a superstar. Today, Holiday is remembered for her masterpieces, creativity and vivacity. Holiday's poignant voice is still considered one of the greatest jazz voices of all time.

Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) grew up in jazz talent-rich Baltimore in the 1920s. As a young teenager, Holiday served the beginning part of her so-called "apprenticeship" by singing along with Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs. When Holiday's mother, Sadie Fagan, moved to New York, Billie eventually went with her. She made her singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs. She had no technical training and she never even learned how to read music. Holiday quickly became an active participant of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country. She moved from one club to another, working for tips.

At the age of 18, Holiday was spotted by John Hammond. He cut her first record as part of a studio group led by Benny Goodman. In 1935 Holiday's career got a big push when she recorded four sides that became hits including; "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Miss Brown to You." Landing a recording contract, until 1942, she recorded a number of master tracks that would ultimately become an important building block of early American jazz music.

Holiday began working with Lester Young in 1936, who pegged her with her now-famous nickname of "Lady Day." When Holiday joined Count Basie in 1937 and then Artie Shaw in 1938, she became one of the first black women to work with a white orchestra.


In the 1930s, when Holiday was working with Columbia Records, when she was first introduced to the poem "Strange Fruit," an emotional piece about the lynching of a black man. Though Columbia would not allow her to record the piece due to subject matter, Holiday went on to record the song with an alternate label, Commodore, and the song eventually became one of Holiday's classics. It was "Strange Fruit" that eventually prompted Lady Day to continue more of her signature, moving ballads.

Holiday recorded about 100 new recordings on the label, Verve, from 1952 to 1959. Her voice became more rugged and vulnerable on these tracks. During this period, she toured Europe, and made her final studio recordings for the MGM label in March of 1959.

Billie Holiday Quotations

  • Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what's more than enough.
  • I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know.
  • If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all.
  • You can`t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music.