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Friday, 17 July 2015

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia on April 7, 1915, At the time of her birth, her mother, Sadie Fagan (born Sarah Harris), was just 13.

It is thought her father was Clarence Holiday, who abandoned Sadie when Billie was an infant to pursue a career as a jazz guitarist.

In 1929 Holiday's mother witnessed a neighbor, Wilbert Rich, raping her daughter. Rich was sentenced to three months in jail.

She started singing in the early 1930s in Harlem, New York City, for tips in night clubs, and got a job at Pod's and Jerry's, a famous Harlem jazz club.

Holiday took her professional pseudonym from Billie Dove, an actress she admired, and her probable musician father Clarence Holiday.


The producer John Hammond first heard Holiday in early 1933 and arranged for the young singer  to make her recording debut, at age 18, in November 1933 with Benny Goodman, singing two songs: "Your Mother's Son-In-Law" and "Riffin' the Scotch."

"Riffin' the Scotch," released on November 11, was her first hit, selling 5,000 copies.

A tenor saxophonist called Lester Young often accompanied Holiday on her early recordings. He had been a boarder at her mother's house in 1934 and she got on well with him. Young gave her a nickname, "Lady Day."



In the late 1930s,  Holiday worked as a big band singer with Count Basie and Artie Shaw. She was one of the first black women to work with a white orchestra (Artie Shaw's).

Holiday was recording for Columbia in the late 1930s when she was introduced to "Strange Fruit", a song based on a poem about lynching written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx. When Holiday's recording of the song was first released, it was denounced by Time magazine as "A piece of musical propaganda." In 1999, the same publication voted “Strange Fruit” the Song of the Century.

On May 16, 1947, Holiday was arrested for possessing narcotics in her New York apartment. She was sentenced to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, popularly known as "Camp Cupcake" and released early in March 1948 because of good behavior.  Holiday said she never "sang a note" at Alderson even though people wanted her to.

At the Downbeat club, in New York.[1] c. February 1947

By early 1959 Holiday had cirrhosis of the liver because of her heavy drinking. She was taken to Metropolitan Hospital in New York on May 31, 1959 with liver and heart disease.

Holiday's hospital room was raided and even though she was dying, the singer was arrested and handcuffed on narcotic charges.

Billie Holiday died on July 17, 1958 with 70 cents in the bank and $750 strapped to her leg -- a reminder of her life-long fear of poverty.

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