Sunday Thoughts: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was known for her distinct and melancholic voice that moved many peopled in the jazz community. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 7, 1915 as Eleanora Fagan, Holiday had spent most of her childhood growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. Holiday experienced hard times growing up, with it being only her and her mother, Sadie, Billie struggled for most of her childhood. Around the 1930s  Billie and Sadie moved to New York where Billie began performing at local night clubs while her mother worked at a brothel to support the two. There she renamed herself Billie after the film star Billie Dove. Holiday had always found comfort from her troubled life in music from artists such as Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. This inspired her music and at only 18 Billie was discovered and began making music that would shift the world. 

Releasing her most popular singles God Bless the Child and Strange Fruit, Billie was breaking records and boundaries. Being one of the first African American Vocalist to work with a white Orchestra led by the "King of the Clarinet" Artie Shaw. While working with the group Holiday experienced racial discrimination and decided to leave the orchestra due to frustration. Billie began soaring on her own, creating her renowned stage persona; wearing Gardenias in her hair and tilting her head back while singing is what made Billie so separate from the rest. Holiday premiered in the 1947 film New Orleans with her idol Louis Armstrong which helped to advance Holidays career. However, with the pressure of fame, love and the passing of her mother, Holiday succumbed to the life of addiction and eventually passed away due to complications from alcohol and drugs July 17, 1959. Although she is not with us today her memory still lives on as she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Billie Holiday wasn't perfect but her contribution to jazz will live on forever as modern hip hop has found ways to incorporate Holiday's music into it's own. For example, in 2013 Kanye West sampled Holiday's song Strange Fruit in his song Blood on the Leaves. Fifty-Four years after Holiday's passing, her melancholic voice and distinct sound continues to live on today. A mural of Holiday can be seen on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland so be sure to check it out if you're ever in the area!

Listen to Billie Holiday on Spotify below.  

Billie Holiday  Photo: Paul J. Hoeffler, Handout photo

Billie Holiday

Photo: Paul J. Hoeffler, Handout photo