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.
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.