Monday, June 8, 1970

Musical Artist - Holiday, Billie

Billie Holiday was a popular and influential American jazz singer who had a career that spanned nearly thirty years and essentially set the standard for every female vocalist to come after her. Nicknamed "Lady Day", Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan and began singing in Harlem nightclubs under her stage name by the age of twenty. In 1935, she signed her first recording contract and went on to turn out numerous jazz hits including What a Little Moonlight Can Do, God Bless the Child, Embraceable You, and Summertime.

Holiday was a pioneer in other ways as well - when she accepted a job working with Artie Shaw, she became the first black singer to front a white big band. Their subsequent tour of the segregated South stirred controversy that resulted in a number of incidents. Eventually the strain of being denied accommodations on account of her race proved too much for Holiday, and she left Shaw's band. It was in roughly this time frame that Holiday recorded her signature song Strange Fruit, moving herself from pop singer to icon.

Through her career, Holiday struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, with her drug problems leading to an arrest resulting in a short prison sentence in 1947. Her drug issues began to affect her work in her later career, causing troubles on the set of New Orleans, the only movie she appeared, and slowly sapping away her voice. Due to her 1947 conviction, Holiday lost her Cabaret Card, and was prohibited from performing at venues that sold alcohol for the final twelve years of her life, preventing her from earning much in the way of performance fees which were her main source of income. Though she experienced something of a revival with the release of her 1956 autobiography Lady Sings the Blues and the accompanying album, years of alcohol and drug abuse and relationships with abusive men took their toll, and Holiday died in 1959 at the age of 44.

There is a website dedicated to Holiday titled Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues. There is also a Facebook page devoted to Holiday. In 1972, a film about her life starring Diana Ross as Billie Holiday was released titled Lady Sings the Blues.

Musical Monday Selections:

01/16/17: Strange Fruit

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