Billie Holiday: “Lady Day”


Billie, age 2 in 1917
Billie, age 2 in 1917




Born: Elenora Fagan Gough on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, PA

Parents: Sarah Julia “Sadie” Fagan and Clearance Holiday, a jazz guitarist

Siblings: 1

Spouse(s): Jimmy Monroe (m. 1941-1947), Joe Guy (m. 1951-1957), and Louis McKay (m.1957-1959),

Children: 0

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 (

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.[2][3] 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.[4] 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).

Billie and Husband Jimmy Monroe (1st husband)
Billie and Louis McKay (
Billie and Louis McKay (3rd husband)


Over the years, there have been many tributes to Billie Holiday, including “The Day Lady Died”, a 1959 poem by Frank O’Hara, and Langston Hughes‘ poem “Song for Billie Holiday”.



Paula Patton as Billie Holiday
Paula Patton as Billie Holiday
Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues (1972)
Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues (1972)

Quotes from or About Billie:

If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.
Love is like a faucet, it turns off and on.
Don’t threaten me with love, baby. Let’s just go walking in the rain.
Sometimes it’s worse to win a fight than to lose.
I never hurt nobody but myself and that’s nobody’s business but my own.
You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.
Dope never helped anybody sing better or play music better or do anything better. All dope can do for you is kill you – and kill you the long, slow, hard way.
I’m always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I’ve been.
I never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids. I started working when I was six years old.
You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation.

Frank Sinatra was influenced by her performances on 52nd Street as a young man. He told Ebony in 1958 about her impact:

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

Her last major recording, a 1958 album entitled Lady in Satin, features the backing of a 40-piece orchestra conducted and arranged by Ray Ellis, who said of the album in 1997:

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

Billie Holiday Funeral (1959)

I Salute this AMAZING HER-story making sista!




3 thoughts on “Billie Holiday: “Lady Day”

    1. She had a difficult childhood and much of her adulthood was plagued with alcohol and drug abuse. Singing was most likely the only way that she could pour out her emotions.

      Liked by 1 person

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