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Acclaimed jazz singer Billie Holiday

was born on 7 April 1915.

Today the music world celebrates the centenary of her birth.

(image from baltimoremagazine.net):

billie holiday, at the mic

Billie Holiday

Born Eleanora Fagan Gough

(she would change her name to Billie Holiday)-

she was first raised in Baltimore, Maryland

and later moved with her mother to Harlem, New York.

She lived a childhood and teen years of hardship:

poverty, school truancy, arrest for prostitution.

“I never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids.

I started working when I was 6 years old.” 

(quote from usatoday.com)

In 1933, while working as a singer in noted Harlem jazz club Pods’ and Jerry’s-

the 18 year old was discovered by producer John Hammond.

This business association would launch her music career.

During the late 1930s, she collaborated with the greats of the “Big Band Era”:

recording with Benny Goodman-

famed clarinetist and bandleader, known as the “King of Swing”;

touring with jazz pianist, composer and band leader Count Basie

and collaborating with clarinetist, composer,  band leader Artie Shaw.

She was the first Black female singer to work with an all White band.

billie holiday, flye, artie shaw

Flyer for show featuring

Billie Holiday with the Artie Shaw Band (March, 1938)

While performing, her signature accessory were gardenia flowers,

which she wore as hair adornments.

(image from musicians-allaboutjazz):

billie holiday, gardenia

Though her vocal range was limited

her musical talent knew no bounds.

Her sound was emotive, haunting, genuine, original.

“I don’t think I ever sing the same way twice.

The blues is sort of a mixed-up thing.

You just have to feel it. Anything I do sing is part of my life.”

(quote from cbsnews.com)

“I’ll be Seeing You”

sung by the incomparable

Billie Holiday

Nicknamed ‘Lady Day’ by jazz saxophonist Lester Young (Count Basie Orchestra)

she is esteemed as one of the greatest female jazz singers.

Her musical legacy has influenced the creative works of artists such as

Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin.

She became a voice of the American civil rights movement.

Using her talent and celebrity to highlight

the issue of racism in the United States,

which woefully defined the time-

Ms. Holiday recorded the song Strange Fruit.

The lyrics are the words from a poem of the same name

which was written in 1937 by Jewish school teacher Abel Meeropol.

(image from slideshare.com):

  billie holiday, strange fruit, poem/lyrics

The words create a vivid image of the horrors of lynching,

which occurred in areas of the American south .

Commodore Records bravely recorded the song (1939) and

Time Magazine named it the song of the century.

A beautiful woman with a beautiful voice

she died on 17 July 1959 from drug and alcohol abuse

She was just  44 years old.

On this day which marks

what would have been her 100th birthday,

she is justly honoured for her contribution

to the music industry with a star on the

Apollo Theater’s Walk of Fame, NYC.

(image from cbs.com):

billie holiday, portrait

Billie Holliday

7 April 1915  – 17 July 1959

To learn more of her life from her own accounting

read Ms. Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings the Blues,

first published in 1956.