Monday, July 28, 2014

Billie Holiday: Lady Day

Billie Holiday’s life is the stuff of jazz legend. She rose from poverty and abuse to become one of the biggest stars of jazz during the Thirties and Forties. Holiday was a great singer who did not possess a great voice. She employed her voice like a horn player would his horn, and had a reputation for taking mediocre songs and transforming them into greatness. Her singing style was influenced by Bessie Smith’s singing and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet playing. Fellow jazz musicians referred to her as simply, “Lady Day.”

Holiday was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1915. In 1933, she was discovered by the legendary John Hammond, talent scout extraordinaire. Hammond signed her to Columbia Records, and she recorded for some of the company’s subsidiary labels.

Despite being offered only mediocre material to record, she was supported by some of the finest musicians in jazz, including pianist Teddy Wilson and saxophonist, Lester Young, who would coin her “Lady Day” and become her closest friend and musical collaborator.

In 1937, Holiday toured with the Count Basie Orchestra and later joined Artie Shaw’s Orchestra. She stayed with Columbia Records until 1942, only leaving once for the Commodore label with which she recorded the classic and searing song about lynching, “Strange Fruit.” In 1942, she signed with Decca records and later ended up recording for Verve. One of her last sessions with Columbia produced the classic side, “God Bless the Child.”
In the late Forties, Holiday was convicted of heroin possession and spent several months in prison. Due to the conviction, she was unable to obtain a cabaret card, making it impossible for her to find work in New York City clubs. Suffering from both liver and heart disease, Billie Holiday died in a New York hospital, in 1959.

Holiday’s best recordings can be found on the following collections: “Lady Sings the Blues” (1956), “Songs for Distingue Lovers” (1958), “Lady in Satin” (1958), “The Billie Holiday Story” (1959), “The Golden Years” (1962), “Billie Holiday’s Greatest Hits” (1967), “Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia (1933-1944)” (2001), “Lady Day: The Best of Billie Holiday” (2001), “The Ultimate Collection” (2005), and “Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles” (2007).

Lady Day