100 Years from Billie Holiday’s Birth this April

[This April marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, the recording artist fondly known as “Lady Day.” Known as much for her demons as her pioneering jazz vocals, Holiday is a member of both the Grammy and the Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.Holiday’s voice, unique phrasings, and fearless innovation changed that. As Holiday’s fame grew, Birdsong-Johnson notes, she used a unique combination of blues and jazz elements to create a new type of vocal—one that had a lasting impact due to over 350 recordings that showcased her vocal style and raised the profile of jazz worldwide.

Nowhere did Holiday express the weight of black history more poignantly than in her performance of “Strange Fruit,” a blues ballad about racism and lynchings she recorded in 1939. Chris Stone notes that though the song was not written for Holiday, she made it her own, performing it under a single shaft of light and leaving the stage after its conclusion. “Regardless of how rapturous the response,” writes Stone, “she granted no encores, no curtain calls.”

Holiday, an alcoholic and heroin addict, died tragically in 1959 at just 44 years of age. She had just 70 cents in her bank account. Though her days of curtain calls are over, we have only to play one of her more than 350 recordings for an encore from one of the most intriguing and enduring figures in American music.]   Read the full story | JSTOR


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