Billie Holiday

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Holiday, Billie

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 Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw—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.

Bibliography

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).


holiday

holiday [altered from holy day], day set aside for the commemoration of an important event. Holidays are often accompanied by public ceremonies, such as parades and carnivals, and by religious observances; they may also be simply a time for relaxation. Days of commemoration are observed throughout the world, e.g., Bastille Day in France, May Day in Russia, and the New Year in China. National holidays are observed throughout a country and are considered legal if proclaimed by the central government. In the United States the state governments have jurisdiction over the celebration of holidays, except with regard to federal employees and agencies. On legal holidays banks and schools are closed and business transactions are restricted. New Year's Day, Presidents Day (a combined observance of George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays that occurs near the date of Washington's birthday), the Fourth of July (Independence Day), Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day are legal holidays observed by all the states. Abraham Lincoln's birthday, Memorial Day, Election Day, Columbus Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday are legal holidays in most states. Many special occasions are observed by single states or by a group of states, such as Patriots' Day (in Massachusetts and Maine) and the Confederate Memorial Day. In 1971 the U.S. Congress created several three-day weekends for federal employees by proclaiming that certain holidays be observed on Monday regardless of their actual dates. Holidays now celebrated on Monday in most states include Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day. For religious holidays, see feast. See also bank holidays.

Bibliography

See E. M. Deems, ed., Holy-days and Holidays (1902, repr. 1968); R. J. Myers, Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays (1972).

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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.