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Billie Holiday: Profile Of A Legendary Musician

Holiday’s legendary jazz music defines a generation.


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William P. Gottlieb collection

Born Eleanora Fagan in 1917, Billie Holiday endured a tough and troubled upbringing, yet she managed to find solace in music. At the ripe age of 18, Holiday got her start singing at nightclubs in Harlem, New York. She renamed herself, 'Billie' after the film star Billie Dove, and paired it with her father’s surname, Holiday.

Producer John Hammond ultimately discovered Holiday after he saw her perform one night at a jazz club. Hammond recognised Holiday’s star quality right away, and paired her with notable bandleader, Benny Goodman.

With Goodman, Holiday scored her first top ten hit in 1934 with Riffin’ the Scotch. From there, she went on to work with a variety of notable jazz musicians, and became the first black artist to perform with an all-white band.

Holiday eventually grew tired of the racial discrimination and prejudice she faced on the road with other white artists. She decided to return to New York and step out on her own as a solo artist instead. It was during this time that she recorded her revolutionary hit about southern lynching, Strange Fruit.

Many of Holiday’s songs are filled with heartache and often centre on broken relationships. Her lyrics are based on her own experiences with destructive and abusive partners. Holiday was also a heavy drinker and smoker, and she battled substance abuse throughout her career.

Eventually, her harmful habits caught up with her and in 1947, she went to jail. During her incarceration, Holiday engaged in relationships with women. She was also rumoured to have had intimate relationships with several different actresses, including Tallulah Bankhead.

Holiday passed away well before her time at the age of 44 from cirrhosis of the liver. She will always be remembered and dutifully revered as a music legend. Her distinctive and expressive voice and timeless jazz songs define the 30s and 40s.

Next time there’s a rainy day, simply put on the tea kettle and turn on Billie Holiday. You’re guaranteed to slip into a cozy daze, wrapped in a blanket of warm nostalgia.

 


Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21

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