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.
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
in 1915. In 1933, she was discovered by the legendary John Hammond, talent
scout extraordinaire. Baltimore, Maryland
signed her to Columbia Records, and she recorded for some of the company’s
subsidiary labels. Hammond
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.
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 produced the classic side, “God
Bless the Child.” Columbia
In the late Forties,
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
clubs. Suffering from both liver and heart disease, Billie Holiday died in a New York City hospital, in
1959. New York
In the late Forties,
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).