Sunday, May 13, 2012

Biography: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday is a renowned American jazz singer/vocalist. She was born Eleanora Flagan on April 7, 1915 in Philedelphia, Pennsylvania (Billie Holiday Biography). However, she spent most of her early life in Baltimore, Maryland. Growing up, her young, teenage mother Sadie Flagan who was not stable enough to support her daughter, was absent from Billie’s early childhood as well as her father. Billie often spent much time in the care of others. With her mother’s absence, Holiday had a difficult time growing up. As a child, she got into a lot of trouble at school for truancy. She ended up going to a Catholic reform school at the age of ten because of her misbehaviors and eventually dropped out of school at a young age (About Billie Holiday).
Despite her hardships as a young child, Billie used music as her outlet. As a young teenager, Billie began singing as a novice along side of legendary singers such as Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith in the late 1920’s (Billie Holiday Biography, 1). Her mother, at the time, reunited with Billie in New York City in her teen years. In the 1930’s she became well-known throughout New York City for singing in local jazz clubs. She became very active in the night life of the town singing in various night clubs and developed her stage name “Billy Holiday” after Billie Dove, a prominent film actor (Billie Holiday Biography, 1). Even though Billy did not have that much education or technical training in reading music, she gained much experience in the “jazz era” that was going on during her time.
 At the age of 18, producer John Hammond, discovered her talent at a Harlem jazz club and she began working with other talented musicians. In 1933, she released her first studio recording called, “Your Mother’s Son- In- Law” (About Billie Holiday). In 1935, she began to record with pianist and other vocalists (About Billie Holiday). She also appeared in a film called Symphony In Black with Duke Ellington (Billie Holiday Biography, 2). Holiday made other hit singles in 1935 such as, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Miss Brown to You” (About Billie Holiday, 1).
As her singing career progressed, she started working with Lester Young, a saxophonist that was part of an orchestra called Count Basie’s Orchestra. In 1937, she joined Count Basie’s band and began traveling with them (Billie Holiday Biography, 2). It was stated that, “When Holiday joined Count Basie in 1937 and then Artie Shaw in 1938, she became one of the very first black women to work with a white orchestra, an impressive accomplishment of her time” (About Billie Holiday).
Holiday soon stepped out on her own as a solo artist and made many prominent songs as a jazz vocalist. Her two most famous songs were, “God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit" (Biography of Billie Holiday, 2). There was a lot of controversy around “Strange Fruit” because it was a poem based on the lynching of African Americans and many record companies would not support it. However, the controversy surrounding this song made it chart- topping. Also, during her solo career, Billie made many songs about relationship and romances such as, "T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" and "My Man" (Billie Holiday Biography, 2).  Also, she made other songs that discussed these issues such as “You Let Me Down” and “All of Me.”
Furthermore, throughout her life, she had troubles with drug abuse and abusive relationships. “Holiday's success was marred by this growing dependence on drugs, alcohol, and abusive relationships” (Billie Holiday). Holiday’s drug use with heroin started with her boyfriend Joy Guy and she started using alcohol to cope with the death of her mother. Additionally, she got into many abusive relationships, the most influential one in her life being with her husband Louis McKay that was abusive but did try to get her off of drugs (Billie Holiday). “Her personal life was as turbulent as the songs she sang,” which is why most of the songs she sang reflected these personal problems (Billie Holiday).
Even in the face of her personal problems, Billie still continued with her singing career and was an influential figure in jazz spotlight. She recorded over 100 new songs on another record label called Verve. She also appeared in the 1947 film New Orleans with renowned Louis Armstrong (Billie Holiday Biography, 2). However, her continued drug use had a devastating impact on her singing career and on her life. The final days of her singing career consisted of her being convicted of drug use in a rehabilitation center and not being able to play at clubs. Eventually, she was acquitted of the charges and was able to start her singing career again. In the 1950s she started touring and recording music (Billie Holiday Biography). Nonetheless, dugs had a detrimental impact on her singing. On May 25, 1959, in New York City, Billie gave her last performance (Billie Holiday Biography, 3). Soon after, she was admitted to the hospital for health problems and drug abuse. On July 17, 1959, Holiday died because of drug- related problems and complications (Billie Holiday Biography, 3). Despite these short-comings, Holiday is still noted as an American jazz legend. She impacted many people through her music and is considered by many to be one of the greatest jazz vocalist of all times.

Works Cited
"About Billie Holiday." Billie Holiday: The Official Site of Lady Day. CMG Worldwide, Inc. Web. 13 May 2012.
"Billie Holiday Biography." A&E Networks Television. Web. 13 May 2012.
"Billie Holiday." Biography. Red Balloon Technology Ltd, 2012. Web. 13 May 2012.

Jasmyne S.


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