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The Sad Life of Billie Holiday
A Billie Holiday biography about perhaps the most famous female jazz artist ever… This lady had the blues! She was a woman who could handle all the stresses of life.
It’s easy to get mental help for depression today, but it wasn’t so easy in Billy’s day…today it’s easy to get a Xanax or Prozac! For Billy it was booze and heroin…what a shame!
Billie “Lady Day” Holiday was born in 1915 in Baltimore. His childhood was difficult — his musician father left the family early, and his mother was unable to take care of him all the time, so Billy was often taken care of or cared for by relatives. who abused her.
He was abused at the age of 11 and grew up in poverty. She said it best in the first line of her famous autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues: “Mom and Pop had only a few children when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three.”
In 1929, she moved to New York, where she worked as a maid before becoming a teenage prostitute. According to legend, in 1930 (at the age of 15), he sang “Body and Soul” to prevent his mother from being kicked out, bringing the audience to tears. The lady sure can sing folk songs…she was a grown woman even as a child.
Billie Holiday began singing in bars and restaurants. Four years later, he made his first recording with Benny Goodman. In 1935, he scored a major hit when he recorded four sides, including “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown For You.”
He got his own record deal, and the songs he was given (as opposed to those reserved for top white singers) made songs classics. The girl didn’t even “own” the song she sang… she put her “stamp” on it! LIKE A REAL “JAZZ-MOORE”!
His vocal quality was not exceptional and his vocal range was limited, but he had an uncanny ability to breathe life into a song using things like pauses and expletives that turned the song into an experience rather than just a story. Sung with a few notes.
He puts his heart and soul into every song, translating the song and making it feel like you haven’t heard it. Today it’s more common, but Billie Holiday pioneered the style, where she took ordinary second-rate songs and made them extraordinary.
In 1936 he recorded with pianist Teddy Wilson and first collaborated with Lester Young. These two are made for each other. He breathed in as she breathed in as he played her phrase with her. They complimented each other perfectly in terms of style. He nicknames her “Ms. Day” and he calls her “Prez.” They sounded like two voices of one person.
His recording career is divided into 3 phases. The first was recorded at Columbia in the 1930s with Wilson, Goodman and Young. His music was created for jukeboxes, but he made it a jazz classic. His fame never caught up with his artistic achievements, but he was widely played on Army Radio during World War II.
From this period came the anti-racist song “Strange Fruit”, in which he painted gruesome pictures of black bodies hanging from trees. The lyrics are based on a poem by Louis Allen.
The next period was his Decca (record company) years in the forties, marked by recordings with string orchestra accompaniment. Although the records of this period are great, they are not “jazz”. This period included Loverman and his self-penned classics Don’t Explain and God Bless the Child. In late 1947, he was arrested on drug charges and spent 18 months in a federal penitentiary.
But this woman made some terrible choices when it came to men! She fell in love with men who stole money from her, abused her, and introduced her to heroin. He got out of jail and went back to heroin. To be fair people; I think any man can get any woman into alcohol or drugs!
By the 1950s, or the third period, his voice became louder and sometimes lost notes, but his interpretation skills improved. Some consider this work with Verve Records to be his best work.
His classic recording of Lady in Satin was described by Ron David as “his voice dying and sounding like he’s come back to take us from his grave.”
It’s not known whether it was the ordeal, drugs, or alcohol (or all three) that killed him, but sadly, he was arrested on drug charges in 1959 while on his deathbed. Isn’t that a shame? Enough to give me the blues and cry into my beer!
With all the sadness surrounding the lady, it’s amazing how she manages to make the amazing music she does! Thank God for the power to bring us the original original song… The real DIVA is Billie Holiday!
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