Billie Holiday biography is probably the best known female jazz artist… The lady had the blues people! She was a lady to deal with all the stress in her life.
Today it’s easy to get mental help for depression, but in Billie’s day it wasn’t so easy… today Xanax or Prozac are readily available! For Billie it was alcohol and heroin… what a shame!
Billie “Lady Day” Holiday was born in Baltimore in 1915. She had a difficult childhood: her musician father abandoned the family early and her mother was unable to support her steadily, resulting in Billie often being placed in the care of relatives. . who abused her.
She was raped at age 11 and grew up poor. She says it best in the first line of her famous autobiography Lady Sings the Blues: “Mum and Dad were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three.”
In 1929, she moved to New York, where she worked as a maid and later as a teenage prostitute. According to legend, in 1930 (at the age of 15), to prevent her mother from being evicted, she sang Body and Soul and made the audience cry. The lady sure she could sing friends…she even as a child she was a grown woman.
Billie Holiday began singing in bars and restaurants. Four years later, she made her first record with Benny Goodman. In 1935, she got her breakthrough when she recorded four sides, which included What a Little Moonlight Can Do and Miss Brown to You.
He got his own recording contract, and although the songs he was given were run-of-the-mill (compared to those reserved for top white singers), he turned the songs into classics because of his singing ability. The girl had a habit of “owning” any song she sang…she put her “stamp of her” on it! LIKE A REAL “JAZZ-CAT”!
His voice quality was not outstanding and his vocal range was limited, but he had an uncanny ability to bring a song to life, using things like pauses and slurs, which made the song become a story or an experience, an experience. Instead of just a group of notes he sang with one voice.
She poured her heart and soul into every song and her ability to take on a song and make you feel like it was unheard of. While it’s more common today, Billie Holiday pioneered the style, and that’s how she took ordinary second-rate songs and made them extraordinary.
In 1936, he recorded with pianist Teddy Wilson, where he first worked with Lester Young. These two were made for each other. When he played her phrases with hers, he breathed as she breathed. They complemented each other perfectly stylistically. He nicknamed her “Lady Day” and she nicknamed him “Prez”. They sounded like 2 voices from the same person.
His recording career is divided into 3 periods. The first is the period of the 1930s, recorded with Columbia, marked by his time with Wilson, Goodman and Young. Her music was made for jukeboxes, but she turned them into jazz classics. Her popularity never matched her artistic success, but she was widely played on Armed Forces Radio during World War II.
Out of this period came the anti-racist song Strange Fruit, in which he paints a terrifying picture of lynched black bodies hanging from trees. The song’s lyrics were adapted from a poem by Louis Allen.
The next period is his Decca (record company) years in the 1940s, marked by recordings with string orchestra accompaniment. While the records from this period are impressive, they’re not all that “jazz.” This period featured Loverman, as well as her own self-written classics Do n’t Explain and God Bless the Child. In late 1947, she was arrested on drug charges and spent 18 months in federal reform school.
But the lady made terrible decisions when it came to men! From her. She fell in love with men who stole money from her, abused her and introduced her to her heroine. When she got out of jail, she went back to heroin. To be honest people; I guess a good-for-nothing man can drive any woman to drink or drugs!
By the fifties, the third period, his voice was becoming hoarser and he would sometimes skip notes, but his ability to perform songs improved. Some consider this work, with Verve Records, to be one of his best.
Ron David described his classic recording of Lady in Satin as “sounding like her voice had died and come back to haunt us from the grave”.
It’s not known if misery, drugs, or drink (or all three) killed her, but in a sad irony, she was arrested on narcotics charges while on her deathbed in 1959. Isn’t that a shame? Enough to make me sad and cry in my beer!
With all the sadness surrounding the lady, it’s wonderful that she was able to create the wonderful music that she did! Thank God for her strength to bring us true original sound… a true DIVA is Billie Holiday!