Born April 7th 1915 The prolific Billie Holiday celebrates her birthday today, and it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t honor her and educate our readers on the legend that is Billie. Originally Eleanora Fagan, Billie grew up in the jazz eccentric Baltimore in the 1920s, she started her career in after hour Jazz clubs alongside the likes of Louie Armstrong and Bessie Smith, her career boomed when she moved to Harlem and adopted her stage name Billie Holiday after screen star Billie Dove. From then on she worked her way up, in one the most vibrant jazz cities in the country at the time.
Discovered by John Hammond when she was 18, her break out musical start wasn’t until 1935 when she recorded hits along the likes of “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You.”. She received the nickname lady Day in 1936 and in 1938 she became one of the very first black women to work with a white orchestra.
In the late 1930’s is when she was first introduced to the poem “Strange Fruit,” an emotional piece about the lynching of a black man. She was not allowed to record the piece due to subject matter. At that time she was working with Columbia Records so Holiday went on to record the song with an alternate label. Some people may recognize the title of that song as Kanye West went on to sample it in his blood on the leaves record from the Yeezus album in 2013.
Holiday went on to record about 100 new recordings on a label called Verve, from 1952 to 1959. Her singing style became more rugged and vulnerable than her earlier career style. During this time, she toured Europe. Her final studio recordings was for the MGM label in March of 1959.
“Despite her lack of technical training, Holiday’s unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity made her the outstanding jazz singer of her day.” Holiday died an untimely death at the age of 44. We cannot possibly sum up her career and her countless contributions to international music in a few paragraphs, but we’d like to wish a Happy Birthday to one of the Queen’s of Jazz music, and take this moment to honor the great accomplishments of this Black woman in a time where racial inequalities were at their peek in this nation.