Born: Elenora Fagan Gough on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, PA
Parents: Sarah Julia “Sadie” Fagan and Clearance Holiday, a jazz guitarist
Spouse(s): Jimmy Monroe (m. 1941-1947), Joe Guy (m. 1951-1957), and Louis McKay (m.1957-1959),
Occupation: Jazz musician and singer-songwriter
Accomplishments: Achievements, and Contributions: Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz music and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo (wikipedia). Billie Holiday overcame an impoverished and abusive childhood to become the definitive jazz singer of the 1930’s and 40’s. Although she lacked any formal musical training she had an uncanny ability to “hear” rhythms, syncopations and cadences and developed her own unique improvisational style, influencing the development of jazz and pop music for decades to come with the mesmerizing emotional intensity of her singing. Inspired as a child by recordings of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, she eventually sang with virtually all the greats of the Swing era: Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Art Tatum, Teddy Williams and Benny Goodman among many others (fembio.org).
“Strange Fruit” is a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, who first sang and recorded it in 1939. Written by teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem and published in 1937, it protested American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Such lynchings had reached a peak in the South at the turn of the century, but continued there and in other regions of the United States. Meeropol set it to music and, with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, performed it as a protest song in New Yorkvenues in the late 1930s, including Madison Square Garden.
The song continues to be covered by numerous artists, as well as inspiring novels, other poems and other creative works. In 1978, Holiday’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts (Wikipedia).
- 1987, Billie Holiday was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
- 1993, R&B singer Miki Howard released an album dedicated to Holiday titled Miki Sings Billie.
- 1994, the United States Postal Service introduced a Billie Holiday postage stamp.
- 1999, Holiday ranked No. 6 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Women in Rock n’ Roll.
- 2000, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- In 1970 Frank Sinatra recorded the song Lady Day as a tribute.
- In 1988 the group U2 released “Angel of Harlem” in her honor.
- “My Only Friend” by The Magnetic Fields is a tribute to Billie Holiday.
- Arthur Phillips features Holiday’s 1953 concert in New York in his novel The Song is You (2009).
Quotes from or About Billie:
“ With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years
“ I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You.” There were tears in her eyes … After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was
Death: July 17, 1959 in New York City, NY of pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver
I Salute this AMAZING HER-story making sista!