by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)
GBN delights in the opportunity to commemorate the birth of Billie Holiday, one of America’s most talented singing artists, on what would have been her 105th birthday.
Born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 and raised primarily in Baltimore, MD, Holiday is best known for her signature songs “God Bless The Child,” which she co-wrote with Arthur Herzog, Jr. and “Strange Fruit,” the anti-lynching protest song she first recorded in 1939.
Holiday is also well-regarded by musicians and music enthusiasts alike as a masterful interpreter of jazz and pop standards with instrumentalist-like phrasing, and was a major influence on popular singers such as Carmen McRae, Frank Sinatra, and Joni Mitchell.
Although Holiday’s music had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, current generations got a chance to connect with Holiday’s genius and story through Audra McDonald‘s Tony-winning portrayal of her in the 2014 Broadway musical Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
Slightly older generations may have become acquainted with Holiday through the 1972 film Lady Sings The Blues, which garnered Diana Ross an Academy Award nomination for the title role.
A statue of Holiday by sculptor James Earl Reid was erected in her hometown of Baltimore in 1985 and rededicated in 2009 on a majestic granite pedestal to better capture the significance of her stature.
To read more about Billie Holiday’s life and music, there are fortunately several choices, such as her 1956 autobiography Lady Sings The Blues (as told to William Dufty), Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday by Robert O’Meally, With Billie by Julia Blackburn, Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon by Donald Clarke and Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Cafe Society, And An Early Cry For Civil Rights by David Margolick.
Above you can watch Lady Day in 1957 on CBS’ The Sound of Jazz performing “Fine and Mellow,” the blues standard she wrote and first recorded in 1939, with Jazz All Stars such as Lester “Prez” Young, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, Gerry Mulligan, Milt Hinton and Mal Waldron.
Below you can experience a comprehensive compilation of Billie Holiday’s recordings in a Spotify playlist called Loving Lady Day: The Best of Billie Holiday. Click through to follow and/or download. Enjoy!