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Billie Holiday

In: Film and Music

Submitted By brandi73
Words 1014
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The history and progression of Billie Holiday’s rise to fame is not only tragic but also inspirational. She was able to overcome her traumatic childhood issues and become one of the greatest jazz vocalists of the twentieth century. Although her career was cut short by her untimely death at the young age of 44, her legacy lives on through her music. Billie Holiday was born as Eleanora Fagan Gough in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 1915, to a single mother. Her alleged father, Clarence Holiday, who ultimately became a successful jazz musician, was absent from her life except for an occasional visit. Without a father figure in her life, she began getting into trouble, mainly by ditching school. In January of 1925, at the tender age of 9, Holiday was sent to the House of Good Shepherd, a home for problematic girls of African-American heritage. She stayed in the home for approximately eight months before returning to her mother’s care. She eventually returned to the House of Good Shepherd after allegedly being sexually assaulted in 1926. Music became her salvation. She would listen to Bessie Smith and Louie Armstrong and sing along with them. She started singing at local clubs in New York City after following her mother there. It was during this time in 1930 that she changed her name to “Billie”, supposedly after the actress Billie Dove. Holiday’s troubles did not end in childhood. She had difficulty with relationships, chose unsuitable men and drank excessively. Her first husband, James Monroe, whom she married in1941, introduced her to opium. Although Holiday and Monroe were not divorced until 1947, the time they actually spent together as husband and wife did not last long. Even after their separation, Holiday continued to abuse controlled substances and drink heavily. She later met a trumpeter named Joe Guy and began using heroin with him. Her drug use subsequently led to various arrests for drug charges, even on her deathbed. Before all of the heavy drinking and drug use began, a producer by the name of John Hammond came across Holiday singing in a jazz club in Harlem in 1933. Hammond assisted Holiday by setting up her up with Benny Goodman, a bandleader and clarinetist. Holiday recorded vocals for more than a few tracks with Goodman which eventually led to the release of her first commercial track entitled Your Mother’s Son-in-Law. One of her follow up tracks, Riffin’ the Scotch, became a top ten hit in 1934. Lester Young, a saxophonist who was a member of Count Basie’s Orchestra, developed a friendship with Holiday. Young is the person who gave Holiday the nickname “Lady Day”. He gave her the nickname the same year she joined Count Basie’s Orchestra in 1937. After a year of touring with the orchestra, she was introduced to and joined another orchestra led by Artie Shaw. Since it was an orchestra consisting of white musicians, Holiday was in uncharted waters as an African American woman appearing with the orchestra. The orchestra had trouble with the organizers of their various shows not only because of Holiday’s race but also because of her distinctive singing which caused Holiday to leave the orchestra. After leaving Artie Shaw and his orchestra, she commenced her solo career. It was during her solo career that two of her most popular songs were recorded. Those songs were entitled God Bless the Child and Strange Fruit. She subsequently recorded many songs including three of her hit songs which were Fine and Mellow, I Cover the Waterfront and Embraceable You. Although Holiday continued to tour and record new music in the 1950s, her lifestyle had affected her voice. In 1956, her autobiography titled Lady Sings the Blues was published but Holiday purportedly never reviewed the book before publication so the information contained in the book may not be accurate. On May 25, 1959, in New York City, Holiday gave her last show before dying on July 17, 1959, from cirrhosis of the liver. Her long history of drug and alcohol use cut her life short at the age of 44. Before beginning my research of Billie Holiday, I did not have any specific recollection of ever having heard any of her songs. I listened to several of her songs on youtube including Strange Fruit, Fine and Mellow, God Bless the Child, T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, and I Cover the Waterfront. I did not recognize any of the songs. I also played a collection of her songs in an hour long video on youtube. I also did not recognize any of the unnamed songs from the collection of songs. As indicated in all of the research I did, Holiday has a very exceptional and remarkable voice. It would be easy to pick her voice out if heard on the radio. There was one video where she spoke at the beginning about singing, and her speaking voice was very gruff and raspy. I do not know if that particular video was towards the end of her life when her voice had been affected by her drug and alcohol abuse or if that was how she talked throughout her entire life. Upon hearing her sing, I was quite surprised. It was not what I expected at all. From all the reading and research, I expected to hear a voice that gave me goose bumps when listening. My expectations were a far cry from what I heard. Maybe I was expecting too much but I felt very let down upon listening to her music. Holiday’s extraordinary talent has made a lasting impression upon future jazz singers. She has made such an impact on future generations that in 2000, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame insuring that her legacy will live on for many future generations.

Works Cited "Billie Holiday." - New World Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2014. .
"Billie Holiday." Billie Holiday. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2014. .
"Billie Holiday Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2014. .

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