Billie Holiday

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Holiday, Billie,

1915–59, American singer, b. Baltimore. Her original name was Eleanora Fagan. She began singing professionally in 1930, and after performing with numerous bands—especially those of Benny GoodmanGoodman, Benny
(Benjamin David Goodman), 1909–86, American clarinetist, composer, and band leader, b. Chicago. Goodman studied clarinet at Hull House. In Chicago he had the opportunity to hear (and eventually to play beside) some of the outstanding jazz musicians of the
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, Teddy Wilson, Count BasieBasie, Count
(William Basie) , 1904–84, American jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, b. Red Bank, N.J. After working in dance halls and vaudeville in New York City, Basie moved to Kansas City, a major jazz center.
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, and Artie ShawShaw, Artie,
1910–2004, American clarinetist and bandleader, b. New York City as Arthur Jacob Arshawsky. He began playing professionally as a teenager, becoming a studio musician in New York after 1929.
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—she embarked in 1940 on a career of solo appearances in nightclubs and theaters. Her highly personal approach to a song, her individual phrasing and intonation, and the often rough but highly emotional quality of her voice soon earned her a supreme position among modern jazz singers. Although she was financially successful, she suffered many personal disasters, complicated by the drug addiction that she could not overcome and that eventually destroyed her career and hastened her death. She was also known as Lady Day.


See her sometimes factually inaccurate autobiography (1956); biographies by D. Clarke (1994) and S. Nicholson (1995), critical biography by J. Szwed (2015); D. Margolick, Strange Fruit (2000).

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Holiday, (Eleanora) Billie “Lady Day”

(1915–59) jazz musician; born in Baltimore, Md. She is the most widely celebrated and influential singer in jazz history, but also one of its most tragic figures, her career hampered by drug addiction, prison sentences, and racial injustice. Between 1933–42, she made a brilliant series of small group recordings featuring Teddy Wilson and Lester Young and appeared with the big bands of Count Basie and Artie Shaw. Her 1939 recording of "Strange Fruit," which depicted a lynching, was a cause célèbre. She appeared in several films, including New Orleans (1946), but by the end of the 1940s her voice had begun to deteriorate, taking on a fragile huskiness that initially added to her emotional appeal. She continued to record and appear as a nightclub performer until 1959. Her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, was published in 1956 and was the basis for a 1973 film biography.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Perhaps, we could listen to Tom Milne of the Monthly Film Bulletin, the publication of the British Film Institute, who wrote how Diana Ross did 'a remarkable pastiche job on the tone and timbre of Billie Holiday's voice.' Milne, however, said Ross was not able to capture the elegant, almost literary wit of Billie Holiday's phrasing.
"Jim Ralph said to me it sounded like Billie Holiday a little, so how about doing a show?
This article explores the 1949 arrest, trial, and acquittal of prominent jazz singer, Billie Holiday, for possession of narcotics.
In the early seventies, a young white woman named Linda Kuehl began to research a biography of Billie Holiday. She recorded 150 interviews with people who knew Lady Day.
Here, warrior, enemy and music converge, and one easily accepts that "John Cokrane was a freedom fighter" that Billie Holiday spoke "in tongues of royal chanters,' We see snippets of survival both on and off stage; we taste the sourness of internal and external battles that must be absorbed by the body in order to keep breathing.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill * (Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, Conn.) Billie Holiday gives her final concert and offers glimpses into her troubled personal life in Lanie Robertson's skillful blend of cabaret and biography.
No other jazz singer could get inside lyrics as evocatively as Billie Holiday. "Billie must have come from another world," trumpet player Roy Eldridge once said, "because nobody had the effect on people she had.
On her first solo album in eight years, this chanteuse still has the easy lilt that inspires favorable comparisons to Billie Holiday. A Georgia peach, she paid her dues singing on the streets of Paris and delivers her songs without fancy artifice.
God Bless the Child (Amistad /HarperCollins, $16.99) is a book of illustrations produced by Jerry Pinckney as an accompaniment to the lyrics of the classic song by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr., here setting out a story of a Black family's move from the rural South to the urban North during the Great Migration, as envisioned by Pinckney.
How well-known is it that Frank Sinatra acknowledged Billie Holiday as a major influence on his style?
Two other fine documentaries illuminated black American history: the Oscar-nominated Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks by Bobby Houston and Joel Katz's Strange Fruit, which chronicles Billie Holiday's classic song and America's shameful history of lynching blacks.