“I have to change a tune to my own way of doin’ it. That’s all i know.” Billie Holiday
Early Life• Born April 7 1915 to Sadie Fagan.• Billie Holiday was born in Philadelphia despite the popular belief that she was born in Baltimore.• Her real name is not Billie Holiday, but Eleanora Fagan. She took the ﬁrst name of Billie Dove and her father’s last name for her stage name.
Early Life• Billie spent most of her childhood in Baltimore.• Her father was believed to be the relatively successful jazz musician Clarence Holiday. He had very little part in her life growing up.• Much of her childhood was spent with relatives while her mother worked. Some of these friends and relatives were known to be abusive.
Early Life• Because Billie often skipped school, her mother was taken to court for her truancy. The court sent her to her ﬁrst reform school because of this.• When she was released the ﬁrst time she went back not long after. This time because she was accused of seducing the man who raped her.• After being released for the second time she turned to prostitution.
Musical Beginnings• From a very young age, Billie was comforted by and found solace in music. It helped her deal with her difﬁcult childhood. She used to sing along to the records of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
Musical Beginnings• While working in the brothels of Harlem, New York, Billie listened to a lot of jazz. She soon began singing in nightclubs around the city.• This was when she renamed herself Billie Holiday.• At age eighteen, she was discovered by the producer John Hammond while performing in Harlem. Hammond was a crucial part of Billie Holiday’s early years.
Musical Beginnings• Thanks to Hammond, she got work with the Clarinetist Benny Goodman singing vocals for a few of the tracks.• Her ﬁrst recordings were all meant to be second rate tracks speciﬁcally intended for African American listeners. But Billie turned them into masterpieces.• In 1935, she also appeared in the ﬁlm Symphony in Black with Duke Ellington.
Musical Beginnings• In 1935, she recorded several singles including: “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You.”
Musical Beginnings• In 1937 she toured with Count Basie. This allowed her to later join Artie Shaw’s group. She was the ﬁrst black singer to ever perform with an all white band.• Lester Young gave Holiday the nickname Lady Day in this same year.
Career• Her stint with Artie Shaw’s group did not last very long. She ended up leaving because of lack of support from racist promoters are segregated venues.• Fed up with the racism endured while on tour, she settled down at the ﬁrst fully interracial club called Cafe Society.• Cafe Society was like a merger of European dinner theatre and a black jazz club.
Career• In her time at Cafe Society, Billie really developed her signature style of singing and appearance. She wore black gardenias in her hair and held her head back when she sang.• She debuted the songs “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit” while at Cafe Society.• Many of Holiday’s songs reﬂected on stromy relationships.
Career• Some of these songs include “My Man” and “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do.”• These songs reﬂect personal abusive relationships and experiences.
Billie Holiday’s voice has been described as: expressive,untrained, melancholic, rough, and distinctively phrased.
Strange Fruit• Strange Fruit is a song performed by Billie Holiday and written by Abel Merropol. It is about the southern lynchings of their time and the times before.• The song was so controversial that Colombia Records was not willing to record Billie’s version and many radio stations banned it.• Many believe that the fact that radio stations banned the song made it even more popular.
Strange Fruit• Strange Fruit, despite it’s early arrival, helped shape the civil rights movement. This haunting song of mourning spurred activism in both the black and white communities and fed the anti- lynching campaign.• Lyrics from this song were even sent to every member of congress in hopes to achieve some sort of anti-lynching legislation.
Strange Fruit• The song was originally written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish American school teacher from the Bronx, as a poem inspired by a picture. The piece was later turned into a song and with the help of the owner of Cafe Society, Billie was convinced to sing it.
Strange Fruit• Meeropol, along with other artists and progressive thinkers of the time, was taken in for questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee.• They accused him and others for being members of the communist party because of their anti-lynching views.• Despite all this, Strange Fruit was the number 16 popular songs just days after its release.
Importance and Legacy• Billie Holiday has been said to synthesize the quality of almost any singer who came before her. And those who came after her looked for clues from her as to what to do vocally.• She crafted lyrics like those found in Strange Fruit with her powerful expression and haunting voice into a deep song with lots of feeling. Despite her reluctance at ﬁrst to take on the song, she recognized its importance. The anger she felt about the atrocities suffered by her people fed the feeling.
Personal Life and Decline• In 1941, Holiday married James Monroe and took up his serious habit of opium.• Even after this abusive and strained relationship ended, her drug habits did not.• For years Holiday had been a known user of cannabis and alcohol, but she turned to more harsh substances in little time.
Personal Life and Decline• In 1947, Holiday was arrested for the possession of drugs. This caused her to be in jail for eight months and lose her Cabaret License which meant she could no longer play in bars or nightclubs.• This loss of the ability to perform caused her to return to the recording studios. But with her voice slowly deteriorating, she found it difﬁcult to manage.
Late Musical Life• The mid-nineteen ﬁfties was when Billie toured Europe.• She also wrote her autobiography, “Lady Sings the Blues.”• But relationships with abusive lovers enabled drug use and wasted away her life’s earnings.
Decline• Billie Holiday epitomized the notion of the romantic ideal performer. A struggling artist. She was constantly ﬁghting back destructive urges and demons in order to create beautiful art.
A few Quotes• “I never hurt nobody but myself, and that’s nobody’s business but my own.” -Holiday• “No two people on Earth are alike, and its gotta be that way in music or it isn’t music.” -Holiday
Bibliography• "Billie Holiday Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 27 July 2012. <http://www.biography.com/people/ billie-holiday-9341902>.• Strange Fruit. Directed by Joel Katz. 2002. California Newsreel. Independent Lens.• Photo Credits • "Billie Holiday." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Billie_Holiday>. • "Musicians Who Died on This Date." Musicians Who Died on This Date. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. <http://today- this-musician-died.blogspot.com/>. • "Swotti - Billie Holiday, The Most Relevant Opinions." Swotti. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2012. <http:// swotti.starmedia.com/musicbands/billie-holiday_18977.htm>. • http://www.last.fm/music/Billie+Holiday/+images/36278783 • "Billie Holiday Albums." BILLIE HOLIDAY. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. <http://www.lyricspond.com/artist-billie- holiday>.
Bibliography cont.• "Protest Songs." : 1920s Artist: Abel Meeropol Aka "Lewis Allan" N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. <http:// protestsongs20thcentury.blogspot.com/2009/01/artist-abel-meeropol-lewis-allen.html>.• "Lyrics and Literacy." : Hate and Hope. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. <http://lyricsandliteracy.blogspot.com/2011/01/billie- holiday-strange-fruit.html>.• "Get It How You Live." (paula Patton as Billie Holiday.). N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2012. <http://stoicallyemotive.tumblr.com/ post/7058257435>.• "Billie-Holiday.com." Billie-Holiday.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2012. <http://www.billie-holiday.com/>.• "Contrarian Quarterly." : Billie Holiday Bday / Night in Tunisia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2012. <http://elissa.typepad.com/cq/ 2005/04/happy_bday_bill.html>.