smooth delivery of lyrics captured your struggle, your
trials and tribulations, your highs and lows. She immortalized
the content of your soul through the penetrating intensity
of her voice. The great Lady Day, better known as Billie
Holiday, had no formal vocal training yet the her vocal
cords produced a sound as smooth as silk. When she sang,
you could find peace of mind for a few moments in time.
Born Eleanora Fagan Gough in April 1915, Billie's life
was troubled from the start. She was the illegitimate
daughter of fifteen year old trumpeter Clareance Holiday
and a mother just thirteen years old. Clareance Holiday
eventually abandoned his family, leaving them penniless.
In her family's struggle to make ends meet, Billie was
forced into prostitution.
by the music of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, Billie
attempted to leave behind the dark years of her childhood
by trying her luck in New York City. While still a teenager,
she made her singing debut at a nightclub on 133rd street,
right here in Harlem. She chose her stage name out of
admiration for actor Billie Dove.
As she made her rounds in numerous Harlem nightclubs she
was discovered by John Hammond. Hammond dragged an apprehensive
Billie into a recording studio for the first time. Some
of Billies finest recordings include, "God
Bless the Child, her biggest hit, "Lover Man,
" "Them there Eyes," and Strange
Fruit," a song addressing the nations hateful
acceptance of racism.
Unfortunately, Billies life was continually troubled.
She became a heroin addict and spent most of 1947 in jail
for possession of drugs. Her addiction, combined with
many unhappy relationships and heavy drinking, took a
heavy toll upon her career. As years went by, she became
less and less capable of capturing the magic that had
once enticed her audience. During her later years she
toured Europe. She had what is said to be her "final
burst of glory at the Sound of Jazz Telecast in
1957 that took place here in the United States.
Billie Holiday finally succumbed to her pain and addiction
on July 17, 1959, at the age of 44. Since then her life
has been examined in a series of books as well as in the
movie, "Lady Sings the Blues." Decades after
her death, her music has not lost its uncanny ability
to penetrate your soul. Billie Holiday was, still is,
and will continue to be the greatest jazz singer of all