/arts-days/april/07

April 07

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, was made into a film starring Diana Ross, a 2007 Kennedy Center Honoree.

Photo by William Gottlieb/Redferns

1915: The Lady Sang the Blues
Billie Holiday is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Although vocally untrained, Billie Holiday possessed talents and characteristics far more critical to singing the blues—a natural ear for music and a life of turmoil and sorrow. Holiday changed the art of pop vocals with her smoky voice, unique word phrasing, and dramatic interpretations of classic songs. Her poignant renditions of love songs and ballads are considered classic; no one “carried a torch” like Holiday.

Discovered singing in a jazz club in the early 1930s, Holiday soon signed a record deal and began collaborations with musicians like Artie Shaw and Lester Young (who nicknamed her “Lady Day”). She shattered racial barriers by being the first black woman to front a big band composed of white musicians and by singing about lynching in the haunting “Strange Fruit.” Songs Holiday wrote with others, like “God Bless the Child,” rocketed to the top of the charts. Sadly, Holiday’s struggles with drug and alcohol addiction led to her untimely death at the age of 44.
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