The “Lady Day” Billie Holiday was born on this day in 1915

She remains one of the biggest influential names in modern music

The “Lady Day” Billie Holiday was born on this day in 1915

The “Lady Day” Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Billie remains one of the most influential Jazz singers of all time, with an unique approach to the style through her distinctive vocals, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She first signed a recording contract with Brunswick Records in 1935, and her collaborations with Teddy Wilson yielded the hit “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, which became a jazz standard. She quickly became one of the biggest household names during the 1930’s and 1940’s, achieving mainstream success on labels such as Columbia Records and Decca Records. In 1939, Holiday recorded her biggest selling record, “Strange Fruit”, which became an anthem for the civil rights movements and her signature song. “Strange Fruit” was written by teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem and published in 1937, it protested American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans, she crafted a relationship to the song that would make them inseparable. Because of the power of the song, during the musical introduction, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer, the record sold over a million copies, making it one of her best selling songs. By the late 1940’s, however, she was beset with legal troubles and drug abuse. After a short prison sentence, she performed at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, but her reputation deteriorated because of her drug and alcohol problems. By the 1950’s, though still remaining a household name and one of the most famous Jazz singers worldwide, Holiday’s bad health, coupled with a string of abusive relationships and ongoing drug and alcohol abuse, caused her voice to wither. She toured Europe in 1954 as part of a Leonard Feather package, including Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands. Her final album, “Lady in Satin”, was released in 1958, which was met with mixed reaction to her damaged voice (as all her later recordings during that era) but was a mild commercial success. Shortly after that last release, Billie Holiday died of cirrhosis at age 44 on July 17, 1959 in New York. Since her untimely death, a lot of material has been released and she is now the recipient of four Grammy Awards, all of them posthumous awards for Best Historical Album and she was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1973. Billie Holiday influence has been heard and noted not only inside the Jazz music field but also in Rock music. She’s one of the first artists that had the presence, charisma and appeal that in the future would be associated to Rock/Pop Stars. For that reason, in 2000 she was inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as an early influence to the genre. In 1972, “Lady Sings the Blues”, a film about her life, starring Diana Ross, was released. Some of Billie Holiday’s most memorable songs are “Carelessly”, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”, “Strange Fruit”, “God Bless the Child”, “Trav’lin’ Light” and “Lover Man”. She was born 108 years ago today.

For Ken Warren, 2018

Remembering Billie Holiday: Watch the legendary singer performing “Strange Fruit” in 1959

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