Billie Holiday
Jazz singer
Billie Holiday
For the Canadian radio personality with the same name, see Billie Holiday Billie Holiday File:Billie Holiday 0001 original. jpgPortrait from Down Beat magazine, ca. February 1947Background informationBirth name Eleanora FaganBorn Template:Safesubst:April 7, 1915(1915-04-07)Template:Safesubst:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United StatesDied Template:Safesubst:July 17, 1959(1959-07-17) (aged 44)Template:Safesubst:New York City, New York, U.S.
Biography
Billie Holiday's personal information overview.
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Photo Albums
Popular photos of Billie Holiday
News
News abour Billie Holiday from around the web
Spare Times for Aug. 26-Sept. 1 - New York Times
Google News - over 5 years
Museum of the City of New York: 'New York in the '20s: Jazz Films' (Sunday) Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday are among the jazz legends whose filmed appearances in New York City studios will be screened at 2 pm The
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NewsOne's Guide To DC For MLK Memorial Dedication - News One
Google News - over 5 years
Once a landmark lounge known for hosting the great jazz icons such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and DC's own Duke Ellington. Today, you can catch great food, live music and open mic poetry sessions
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Peyroux explores a rootsier sound - The Daily News Online
Google News - over 5 years
AP Photo/Emarcy/Decca Madeleine Peyroux impressed on her 1996 debut "Dreamland" singing early jazz and blues standards with a tone uncannily reminiscent of Billie Holiday, re-emerged as an innovative interpreter of more contemporary fare by Bob Dylan,
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A Remixed Prophet in a Changed Brooklyn - New York Times (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
They wondered from BAM to Fulton and St. Felix; from the Brooklyn Moon café to Habana Outpost; past Moshood's Creations and Clinton Avenue; and then deep into the heart of Bed-Stuy, past the Billie Holiday Theatre, and, ultimately, to the corner of
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Gambia: The Tales of Billie Holiday - AllAfrica.com
Google News - over 5 years
Meanwhile, let us return to our focus on women in Jazz and continue with a portrait of Billie Holiday, one of the most intriguing Jazz personalities of her time. She was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7th 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
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Dee Dee on Holiday - Independent Online
Google News - over 5 years
Legendary American singer Dee Dee Bridgewater is preparing to enchant audiences at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz with a tribute to Billie Holiday, one of jazz music's icons. Says Bridgewater, a three-time Grammy Award-winning artist:
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Billie Holiday's blues, musical and emotional - Winston-Salem Journal
Google News - over 5 years
With "Bonita & Billie," singer/actor Bonita Brisker does a bang-up job of re-enacting the life and times of Billie Holiday, one of the great American jazz singers (1915-1959). The show, which runs through Saturday at Reynolda House Museum of American
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A banjo ride to the heart of love - Herald.ie
Google News - over 5 years
But Welch wasn't trying to be a reincarnation of Billie Holiday. She was a student of songwriting from Berklee College who'd become hooked on the music of old America. The Depression-era ballads. The country spirituals. The lonesome blues hollers
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A Tribute to Billie Holiday; Prophetic - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Google News - over 5 years
The opening track of this album shows off its main strength and its consistent weakness: actress Angela Bassett reads from Billie Holiday's 1956 autobiography, "Lady Sings the Blues," as if living out the jazz and blues singer's tremendously
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Music Review: A Tribute to Billie Holiday-Various Artists - Seattle Post Intelligencer (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
ORG In the liner notes to A Tribute to Billie Holiday executive producer, Peter Stormare talks about how he first got turned on to the legendary singer. It was 1970 and he was a teenager in Sweden. Jimi Hendrix, "one of the gods of rock and roll," had
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Turkmenistan: Berdymukhamedov Channels Billie Holiday - EurasiaNet
Google News - over 5 years
Berdymukhamedov revealed his musical side during a July 2 concert in Ashgabat that was broadcast on state television. The love ballad that he performed, “For You, My White Flowers,” he reportedly wrote himself, according to an account published by the
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Actress, Activist Ruby Dee Honored at Billie Holiday Theatre - Patch.com
Google News - over 5 years
"We are saluting Ms. Dee for her monumental impact as an artist and her tenacious vocal advocacy on behalf of the theatrical community," said Marjorie Moon, executive director of the Billie Holiday Theatre, who hosted the tribute
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Billie Holiday: “Love Songs” - Austin 360 (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
I'd heard Frank Sinatra sing “They Can't Take That Away From Me” dozens of times, but I didn't know what the song was really about until I heard Billie Holiday's version. When Sinatra performed the Gershwin number it was with the gusty bravado of a man
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Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix Featured on New 125th Street Banners - DNAinfo
Google News - over 5 years
Black musicians like Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix will line 125th Street from Mornigside to Fifth avenues. By Jeff Mays HARLEM — When artist Corine Campbell thought about Harlem music, jazz great Billie Holiday came to mind
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Planning Her Own Holiday - Wall Street Journal
Google News - over 5 years
At the time, the LCJO was preparing for a concert of film music by Duke Ellington, including a number originally sung by Billie Holiday. The orchestra needed someone to sing Ms. Holiday's part, and Mr. Printup recommended Ms. Peyroux
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Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Billie Holiday
    FORTIES
  • 1959
    Age 43
    Billie Holiday died in Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful.
    More Details Hide Details She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her. The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below. Holiday's delivery made her performances recognizable throughout her career. Her improvisation compensated for lack of musical education. Her contralto voice lacked range and was thin, and years of drug use altered its texture and gave it a fragile, raspy sound. Holiday said that she always wanted her voice to sound like an instrument and some of her influences were Louis Armstrong and singer Bessie Smith. Her last major recording, a 1958 album entitled Lady in Satin, features the backing of a 40-piece orchestra conducted and arranged by Ray Ellis, who said of the album in 1997:
    Her funeral Mass was on July 21, 1959 at Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan.
    More Details Hide Details She was buried at Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times, who had been the narrator at Billie Holiday's 1956 Carnegie Hall concerts and had partly written the sleeve notes for the album The Essential Billie Holiday (see above), described her death in these same 1961-dated sleeve notes:
    She was arrested and handcuffed for drug possession as she lay dying, and her hospital room was raided and she was placed under police guard On July 15, she received the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church, and died two days later on July 17, 1959 at 3:10 a.m. from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver.
    More Details Hide Details In her final years, she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings, and she died with $0.70 in the bank and $750 (a tabloid fee) on her person.
    On May 31, 1959, Holiday was taken to Metropolitan Hospital in New York for treatment of liver and heart disease.
    More Details Hide Details The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, under the order of Harry J. Anslinger, had been targeting Holiday since at least 1939.
    By early 1959 Holiday had cirrhosis of the liver.
    More Details Hide Details She stopped drinking on doctor's orders, but soon relapsed. By May she had lost 20 pounds (9 kg). Friends, jazz critic Leonard Feather, her manager Joe Glaser, and photojournalist and editor Allan Morrison unsuccessfully tried to get her to a hospital.
    Her final studio recordings were made for MGM Records in 1959, with lush backing from Ray Ellis and his Orchestra, who had also accompanied her on Columbia's Lady in Satin album the previous year—see below.
    More Details Hide Details The MGM sessions were released posthumously on a self-titled album, later re-titled and re-released as Last Recording.
    When Holiday returned to Europe almost five years later in 1959, she made one of her last television appearances for Granada's Chelsea at Nine in London.
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    Her performance of "Fine and Mellow" on CBS's The Sound of Jazz program is memorable for her interplay with her long-time friend Lester Young. Both were less than two years from death. When Lester Young died in March 1959 Holiday wanted to sing at his funeral, but was refused.
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  • 1957
    Age 41
    On March 28, 1957, Holiday married Louis McKay, a Mafia enforcer.
    More Details Hide Details McKay, like most of the men in her life, was abusive, but he did try to get her off drugs. They were separated at the time of her death, but McKay had plans to start a chain of Billie Holiday vocal studios, à la Arthur Murray dance schools. Although childless, Billie Holiday had two godchildren: singer Billie Lorraine Feather, daughter of Leonard Feather, and Bevan Dufty, son of William Dufty.
  • 1956
    Age 40
    On November 10, 1956, Holiday performed two concerts before packed audiences at Carnegie Hall.
    More Details Hide Details Live recordings of the second Carnegie Hall concert were released on a Verve/HMV album in the UK in late 1961 called The Essential Billie Holiday. The 13 tracks included on this album featured her own songs "I Love My Man", "Don't Explain" and "Fine and Mellow", together with other songs closely associated with her, including "Body and Soul", "My Man", and "Lady Sings the Blues" (her lyrics accompanied a tune by pianist Herbie Nichols). The liner notes on this album were written partly by Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times, who, according to these notes, served as narrator in the Carnegie Hall concerts. Interspersed among Holiday's songs, Millstein read aloud four lengthy passages from her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues. He later wrote: The narration began with the ironic account of her birth in Baltimore – 'Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three' – and ended, very nearly shyly, with her hope for love and a long life with 'my man' at her side. It was evident, even then, that Miss Holiday was ill. I had known her casually over the years and I was shocked at her physical weakness. Her rehearsal had been desultory; her voice sounded tinny and trailed off; her body sagged tiredly. But I will not forget the metamorphosis that night.
    On December 22, 1956, Billboard magazine reviewed Lady Sings the Blues, calling it a worthy musical complement to her autobiography. "Holiday is in good voice now," said the reviewer, "and these new readings will be much appreciated by her following." "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child" were called classics, and "Good Morning Heartache", another reissued track in the LP, was also noted positively.
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    To accompany her autobiography, Holiday released an LP in June 1956 entitled Lady Sings the Blues.
    More Details Hide Details The album featured four new tracks, "Lady Sings the Blues" (title track), "Too Marvelous for Words", "Willow Weep for Me", and "I Thought About You", as well as eight new recordings of Holiday's biggest hits to date. The re-recordings included "Trav'lin' Light" "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child".
    Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, was ghostwritten by William Dufty and published in 1956.
    More Details Hide Details Dufty, a New York Post writer and editor then married to Holiday's close friend Maely Dufty, wrote the book quickly from a series of conversations with the singer in the Duftys' 93rd Street apartment. He drew on the work of earlier interviewers as well and intended to let Holiday tell her story in her own way. In his 2015 study, Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, John Szwed argues that Lady Sings the Blues is a generally accurate account of her life, and that co-writer Dufty was forced to water down or suppress material by the threat of legal action. "In particular, Szwed traces the stories of two important relationships that are missing from the book—with Charles Laughton, in the 1930s, and with Tallulah Bankhead, in the late 1940s—and of one relationship that’s sharply diminished in the book, her affair with Orson Welles around the time of Citizen Kane," according to reviewer Richard Brody.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1954
    Age 38
    Holiday first toured Europe in 1954 as part of a Leonard Feather package.
    More Details Hide Details The Swedish impresario, Nils Hellstrom, initiated the "Jazz Club U.S.A." (after the Leonard Feather radio show) tour starting in Stockholm in January 1954 and then Germany, Netherlands, Paris and Switzerland. The tour party was Holiday, Buddy DeFranco, Red Norvo, Carl Drinkard, Elaine Leighton, Sonny Clark, Berryl Booker, Jimmy Raney, and Red Mitchell. A recording of a live set in Germany was released as Lady Love – Billie Holiday. Holiday's late recordings on Verve constitute about a third of her commercially issued output and are as popular as her earlier records for Columbia, Commodore and Decca. In later years, her voice became more fragile, but it never lost the edge that had always made it so distinctive.
  • 1950
    Age 34
    In 1950, Holiday appeared in the Universal short film Sugar Chile Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet, singing "God Bless the Child" and "Now, Baby or Never".
    More Details Hide Details By the 1950s, Holiday's drug abuse, drinking, and relationships with abusive men caused her health to deteriorate. She appeared on the ABC reality series The Comeback Story to discuss attempts to overcome her misfortunes. Her later recordings showed the effects of declining health on her voice, as it grew coarse and no longer projected its former vibrancy.
  • 1949
    Age 33
    In October 1949, Holiday recorded "Crazy He Calls Me", which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2010.
    More Details Hide Details Gabler said the hit was her most successful recording for Decca after "Lover Man". The charts of the 1940s did not list songs outside the top 30, making it impossible to recognize minor hits. By the late 1940s, despite her popularity and concert power, her singles were little played on radio, perhaps because of her reputation.
  • 1948
    Age 32
    Holiday recorded Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy" in 1948.
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    In 1948, Holiday played at the Ebony Club, which, because she lost her cabaret card, was against the law.
    More Details Hide Details Her manager, John Levy, was convinced he could get her card back and allowed her to open without one. "I opened scared," Holiday said, "was expecting the cops to come in any chorus and carry me off. But nothing happened. I was a huge success."
  • 1947
    Age 31
    Holiday's New York City Cabaret Card was revoked because of her 1947 conviction, preventing her working anywhere that sold alcohol for the remaining 12 years of her life.
    More Details Hide Details The Cabaret system started in 1940 and was to prevent people of "bad character" from working on licensed premises. A performer had to renew the license every two years. This lasted until 1967. Clubs that sold alcohol in New York were among the highest paying in the country. Club owners knew blacklisted performers had limited work and could offer a smaller salary. This reduced Holiday's earnings. She had not received proper record royalties until she joined Decca, so her main revenue was club concerts. The problem worsened when Holiday's records went out of print in the 1950s. She seldom received royalties in her later years. In 1958, she received a royalty of only $11. Her lawyer in the late 1950s, Earle Warren Zaidins, did not register with BMI on all but two songs she had written or co-written, costing her revenue.
    She divorced Monroe in 1947 and also split with Guy.
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    On May 27, 1947, she was in court. "It was called 'The United States of America versus Billie Holiday'.
    More Details Hide Details And that's just the way it felt," she recalled. During the trial, Holiday heard that her lawyer would not come to the trial to represent her. "In plain English that meant no one in the world was interested in looking out for me," she said. Dehydrated and unable to hold down food, she pleaded guilty and asked to be sent to the hospital. The district attorney spoke in her defense, saying, "If your honor please, this is a case of a drug addict, but more serious, however, than most of our cases, Miss Holiday is a professional entertainer and among the higher rank as far as income was concerned." At the end of the trial, Holiday was sentenced to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia. Holiday was released early (March 16, 1948) because of good behavior. When she arrived at Newark, her pianist Bobby Tucker and her dog Mister were waiting. The dog leaped at Holiday, knocking off her hat, and tackled her to the ground. "He began lapping me and loving me like crazy," she said. A woman thought the dog was attacking Holiday. She screamed, a crowd gathered, and reporters arrived. "I might just as well have wheeled into Penn Station and had a quiet little get-together with the Associated Press, United Press, and International News Service," she said.
    On May 16, 1947, she was arrested for possessing narcotics in her New York apartment.
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  • 1946
    Age 30
    In 1946, Holiday won the Metronome Magazine popularity poll.
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    Holiday came second in the Down Beat poll for 1946 and 1947, her highest ranking in that poll.
    More Details Hide Details She came fifth on July 6, 1947 in Billboards annual college poll of "girl singers". Jo Stafford came first.
    The New York Herald Tribune reported of a concert in 1946 that her performance had little variation in melody and no change in tempo.
    More Details Hide Details By 1947, Holiday was at her commercial peak, having made $250,000 in the three previous years.
    In September 1946, Holiday began her only major film New Orleans.
    More Details Hide Details She starred opposite Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman. Plagued by racism and McCarthyism, producer Jules Levey and script writer Herbert Biberman were pressed to lessen Holiday's and Armstrong's roles to avoid the impression that black people created jazz. The attempts failed because in 1947 Biberman was listed as one of the Hollywood Ten and sent to jail. Several scenes were deleted from the film. "They had taken miles of footage of music and scenes," Holiday said, "and none of it was left in the picture. And very damn little of me. I know I wore a white dress for a number I did... and that was cut out of the picture." She recorded the track "The Blues Are Brewin'", for the film's soundtrack. Other songs included in the movie are "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? " and "Farewell to Storyville".
    In 1946, Holiday recorded "Good Morning Heartache".
    More Details Hide Details Although the song failed to chart, it remained in her live shows, with three known live recordings.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1945
    Age 29
    Holiday did not make any more records until August 1945, when she recorded "Don't Explain" for a second time, changing the lyrics "I know you raise Cain" to "Just say you'll remain", and "You mixed with some dame" to "What is there to gain?" Other songs recorded were "Big Stuff", "What Is This Thing Called Love?
    More Details Hide Details ", and "You Better Go Now". Ella Fitzgerald named "You Better Go Now" as her favorite Holiday recording. "Big Stuff" and "Don't Explain" were recorded again but with additional strings and a viola.
  • 1944
    Age 28
    On October 4, 1944, Holiday entered the studio to record "Lover Man" and saw the string ensemble and walked out.
    More Details Hide Details The musical director, Toots Camarata said Billie was overwhelmed with joy. She may also have wanted strings to avoid comparisons between her commercially successful early work with Teddy Wilson and everything produced afterwards. Her 1930s recordings with Wilson used a small jazz combo; recordings with Decca often involved strings. A month later, in November, Holiday returned to Decca to record "That Ole Devil Called Love", "Big Stuff", and "Don't Explain". She wrote "Don't Explain" after she caught her husband, Jimmy Monroe, with lipstick on his collar.
    Milt Gabler became an A&R man for Decca Records as well as owning Commodore Records, and he signed Holiday to the label on August 7, 1944, when she was 29.
    More Details Hide Details Her first Decca recording was "Lover Man" (#16 Pop, No. 5 R&B), one of her biggest hits. The success and distribution of the song made Holiday a staple in the pop community, leading to solo concerts, rare for jazz singers in the late 40s. Gabler said: "I made Billie a real pop singer. That was right in her. Billie loved those songs." Jimmy Davis and Roger "Ram" Ramirez, "Lover Man"'s songwriters, had tried to interest Holiday in the song. In 1943, a flamboyant male torch singer, Willie Dukes, began singing "Lover Man" on 52nd Street. Because of his success, Holiday added it to her shows. The record's flip side was "No More", one of her favorites. Holiday asked Gabler for strings on the recording. Such arrangements were associated with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. "I went on my knees to him," Holiday said. "I didn't want to do it with the ordinary six pieces. I begged Milt and told him I had to have strings behind me."
  • 1942
    Age 26
    On June 24, 1942, Holiday recorded "Trav'lin Light" with Paul Whiteman for a new label, Capitol Records.
    More Details Hide Details Because she was under contract to Columbia, she used the pseudonym "Lady Day." The song reached number 23 on the pop charts and number one on the R&B charts, then called the Harlem Hit Parade. In September 1943, Life wrote: "She has the most distinct style of any popular vocalist and is imitated by other vocalists."
  • 1941
    Age 25
    She married trombonist Jimmy Monroe on August 25, 1941.
    More Details Hide Details While still married, she became involved with trumpeter Joe Guy, who was her drug dealer.
  • 1939
    Age 23
    When Holiday's producers at Columbia found the subject matter too sensitive, Milt Gabler agreed to record it for his Commodore Records label on April 20, 1939, and "Strange Fruit" remained in her repertoire for twenty years.
    More Details Hide Details She recorded it again for Verve. While the Commodore release did not get any airplay, the controversial song sold well, though Gabler attributed that mostly to the record's other side, "Fine and Mellow", which was a jukebox hit. "The version I recorded for Commodore," Holiday said of "Strange Fruit," "became my biggest-selling record. "Strange Fruit" was the equivalent of a top twenty hit in the 1930s. For her performance of "Strange Fruit" at the Café Society, she had waiters silence the crowd when the song began. During the song's long introduction, the lights dimmed and all movement had to cease. As Holiday began singing, only a small spotlight illuminated her face. On the final note, all lights went out and when they came back on, Holiday was gone. Holiday said her father Clarence Holiday was denied medical treatment for a fatal lung disorder because of prejudice, and that singing "Strange Fruit" reminded her of the incident. "It reminds me of how Pop died, but I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South," she said in her autobiography.
    She performed it at the club in 1939, with some trepidation, fearing possible retaliation.
    More Details Hide Details Holiday later said that the imagery in "Strange Fruit" reminded her of her father's death and that this played a role in her resistance to performing it.
  • 1938
    Age 22
    In 1938, Holiday's single "I'm Gonna Lock My Heart" ranked 6th as the most-played song for September of that year.
    More Details Hide Details Her record label Vocalion listed the single as its fourth best seller for the same month, and it peaked at number 2 on the pop charts according to Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories: 1890–1954. Holiday was recording for Columbia in the late 1930s when she was introduced to "Strange Fruit", a song based on a poem about lynching written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx. Meeropol used the pseudonym "Lewis Allan" for the poem, which was set to music and performed at teachers' union meetings. It was eventually heard by Barney Josephson, proprietor of Café Society, an integrated nightclub in Greenwich Village, who introduced it to Holiday.
    In November 1938 Holiday was asked to use the service elevator at the Lincoln Hotel, instead of the passenger elevator, because white patrons of the hotels complained.
    More Details Hide Details This may have been the last straw for her. She left the band shortly after. Holiday spoke about the incident weeks later, saying "I was never allowed to visit the bar or the dining room as did other members of the band... and I was made to leave and enter through the kitchen." There are no surviving live recordings of Holiday with Artie Shaw's band. Because she was under contract to a different record label and possibly because of her race, Holiday was only able to make one record with Shaw, "Any Old Time". However, Artie Shaw played clarinet in four songs recorded in New York the July 10, 1936: "Did I Remember?", "No Regrets", "Summertime" and "Billie's Blues". By the late 1930s, Billie Holiday had toured with Count Basie and Artie Shaw, scored a string of radio and retail hits with Teddy Wilson, and became an established artist in the recording industry. Her songs "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Easy Living" were being imitated by singers across America and were quickly becoming jazz standards.
    In May 1938, Shaw won band battles against Tommy Dorsey and Red Norvo with the audience favoring Holiday.
    More Details Hide Details Although Shaw admired Holiday's singing in his band, saying she had a "remarkable ear" and an "remarkable sense of time", her time in the band was nearing an end.
    By March 1938, Shaw and Holiday had been broadcast on New York City's powerful radio station WABC (the original WABC, now WCBS).
    More Details Hide Details Because of their success, they were given an extra time slot to broadcast in April, which increased their exposure. The New York Amsterdam News reviewed the broadcasts and reported an improvement in Holiday's performance. Metronome reported that the addition of Holiday to Shaw's band put it in the "top brackets". Holiday could not sing as often during Artie Shaw's shows as she could Basie's; the songs were more instrumental with fewer vocals. Shaw was also pressured to hire a white singer, Nita Bradley, with whom Holiday did not get along but had to share a bandstand.
  • 1936
    Age 20
    Her tunes included "I Must Have That Man", "Travelin' All Alone", "I Can't Get Started", and "Summertime", a hit for Holiday in 1936, originating in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess a few years earlier.
    More Details Hide Details Count Basie had gotten used to Holiday's heavy involvement in the band. He said, "When she rehearsed with the band, it was really just a matter of getting her tunes like she wanted them, because she knew how she wanted to sound and you couldn't tell her what to do." Holiday found herself in direct competition with popular singer Ella Fitzgerald, with whom Holiday would later become friends. Fitzgerald was the vocalist for the Chick Webb Band, who were in competition with Count Basie. On January 16, 1938, the same day that Benny Goodman performed his legendary Carnegie Hall jazz concert, the Count Basie and Chick Webb bands had a battle at the Savoy Ballroom. Webb and Fitzgerald were declared winners by Metronome magazine, while Down Beat magazine pronounced Holiday and Basie the winners. A straw poll of the audience saw Fitzgerald win by a three-to-one margin.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1935
    Age 19
    Hammond spoke about the commercial impact of the Teddy Wilson-Billie Holiday sides from 1935 to 1938, calling them a great asset to Brunswick.
    More Details Hide Details The record label, according to Hammond, was broke and unable to record many jazz tunes. Because Wilson, Holiday, Lester Young, and other musicians came into the studio without any arrangements, which cost money, and improvised the material as they went along, the records they produced were very cheap. Holiday was never given any royalties for her work, instead being paid a flat fee, which saved the company money. Some of the records produced were largely successful, such as "I Cried for You" which sold 15,000 copies. Hammond said of the record, "15,000... was a giant hit for Brunswick in those days. I mean a giant hit. Most records that made money sold around three to four thousand." In late 1937, Holiday had a brief stint as a big band vocalist with Count Basie. The traveling conditions of the band were often poor and included many one-nighters in clubs, moving from city to city with little stability. Holiday chose the songs she sang and had a hand in the arrangements, choosing to portray her then developing persona of a woman unlucky in love.
    In 1935 Holiday was signed to Brunswick Records by John Hammond to record current pop tunes with Teddy Wilson in the new "swing" style for the growing jukebox trade.
    More Details Hide Details They were given free rein to improvise the material. Holiday's improvisation of the melody line to fit the emotion was revolutionary. Their first collaboration included "What a Little Moonlight Can Do", and "Miss Brown to You". Billie Holiday's "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" was deemed her "claim to fame." Brunswick did not favor the recording session, because producers wanted Holiday to sound more like Cleo Brown. After "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" garnered success, however, the company began considering Holiday an artist in her own right. She began recording under her own name a year later (on the 35-cent Vocalion label), producing a series of extraordinary performances with groups comprising the swing era's finest musicians. The sessions were co-produced by Hammond and Bernie Hanighen. With their arrangements, Wilson and Holiday took pedestrian pop tunes, such as "Twenty-Four Hours a Day" (#6 Pop) or "Yankee Doodle Went To Town", and turned them into jazz classics. Most of Holiday's recordings with Wilson or under her own name during the 1930s and early 1940s are regarded as important parts of the jazz vocal library. She was then in her twenties.
    In 1935, Billie Holiday had a small role as a woman being abused by her lover in Duke Ellington's short Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life.
    More Details Hide Details In her scene, she sang the song "Saddest Tale".
  • 1933
    Age 17
    Hammond arranged for Holiday to make her recording debut, at age 18, in November 1933 with Benny Goodman, singing two songs: "Your Mother's Son-in-Law" and "Riffin' the Scotch", the latter being her first hit. "Son-in-Law" sold 300 copies, but "Riffin' the Scotch", released on November 11, sold 5,000 copies.
    More Details Hide Details Hammond was impressed by Holiday's singing style and said of her, "Her singing almost changed my music tastes and my musical life, because she was the first girl singer I'd come across who actually sang like an improvising jazz genius." Hammond compared Holiday favorably to Armstrong and said she had a good sense of lyric content at her young age.
    The producer John Hammond, who loved Monette Moore's singing and had come to hear her, first heard Holiday in early 1933.
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  • 1932
    Age 16
    By the end of 1932 at the age of 17, Billie Holiday replaced the singer Monette Moore at a club called Covan's on West 132nd Street.
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  • 1931
    Age 15
    Benny Goodman recalled hearing Holiday in 1931 at The Bright Spot.
    More Details Hide Details As her reputation grew, Holiday played at many clubs, including Mexico's and The Alhambra Bar and Grill where Charles Linton, a vocalist who later worked with Chick Webb, first met her. It was also during this period that she connected with her father, who was playing with Fletcher Henderson's band.
  • 1929
    Age 13
    On May 2, 1929, the house was raided, and Holiday and her mother were sent to prison.
    More Details Hide Details After spending some time in a workhouse, her mother was released in July, followed by Holiday in October, at the age of 14. In Harlem she started singing in various night clubs. Holiday took her professional pseudonym from Billie Dove, an actress she admired, and the musician Clarence Holiday, her probable father. At the outset of her career, she spelled her last name "Halliday", the birth surname of her father, but eventually changed it to "Holiday", his performing name. The young singer teamed up with a neighbor, tenor sax player Kenneth Hollan. From 1929 to 1931, they were a team, performing at clubs such as the Grey Dawn, Pod's and Jerry's on 133rd Street, and the Brooklyn Elks' Club.
    By early 1929, Holiday joined her mother in Harlem.
    More Details Hide Details Their landlady was a sharply dressed woman named Florence Williams, who ran a brothel at 151 West 140th Street. Holiday's mother became a prostitute and, within a matter of days of arriving in New York, Holiday, who had not yet turned fourteen, also became a prostitute at $5 a client.
  • 1928
    Age 12
    By the end of 1928, Holiday's mother decided to try her luck in Harlem, New York, and left Holiday again with Martha Miller.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1927
    Age 11
    Holiday was released in February 1927, nearly twelve.
    More Details Hide Details She found a job running errands in a brothel. During this time, Holiday first heard the records of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1926
    Age 10
    Holiday's mother returned to their home on December 24, 1926, to discover a neighbor, Wilbur Rich, attempting to rape Billie.
    More Details Hide Details She successfully fought back and Rich was arrested. Officials placed Billie in the House of the Good Shepherd under protective custody as a state witness in the rape case.
  • 1925
    Age 9
    After nine months in care, she was "paroled" on October 3, 1925, to her mother, who had opened a restaurant called the East Side Grill, where she and Holiday worked long hours.
    More Details Hide Details By the age of 11, Holiday had dropped out of school.
    She was baptized there on March 19, 1925.
    More Details Hide Details
    Holiday frequently skipped school and her truancy resulted in her being brought before the juvenile court on January 5, 1925, when she was nine years old.
    More Details Hide Details She was sent to The House of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic reform school.
  • 1915
    Born
    Eleanora Fagan was born on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, the daughter of Sarah Julia "Sadie" Fagan and Clarence Holiday, an unmarried teenaged couple.
    More Details Hide Details Her father did not live with her mother. Not long after Holiday's birth, Clarence abandoned his family to pursue a career as a jazz banjo player and guitarist. Sarah moved to Philadelphia at age 19, after being evicted from her parents' home in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland for becoming pregnant. With no support from her parents, Holiday's mother arranged for the young Holiday to stay with her older married half-sister, Eva Miller, who lived in Baltimore. Holiday, who was of African-American ancestry, was also said to have had Irish ancestors through her mother's mixed heritage. Holiday had a difficult childhood. Her mother often took what were then known as "transportation jobs", serving on passenger railroads. Holiday was left to be raised largely by Eva Miller's mother-in-law, Martha Miller, and suffered from her mother's absences and being left in others' care for much of the first ten years of her life. Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, first published in 1956, was sketchy on details of her early life, but much was confirmed by Stuart Nicholson in his 1995 biography of the singer. Some historians have disputed Holiday's paternity, as a copy of her birth certificate in the Baltimore archives lists the father as a man named Frank DeViese. Other historians consider this an anomaly, probably inserted by a hospital or government worker. DeViese lived in Philadelphia and Sadie Harris may have known him through her work.
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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