All About Jazz

Home » Musicians » Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday (”Lady Day”) is considered by many to be the greatest of all jazz singers. In a tragically abbreviated singing career that lasted less than three decades, her evocative phrasing and poignant delivery profoundly influenced vocalists who followed her. Although her warm, feathery voice inhabited a limited range, she used it like an accomplished jazz instrumentalist, stretching and condensing phrases in an ever-shifting dialogue with accompanying musicians. Famous for delivering lyrics a bit behind the beat, she alternately endowed them with sadness, sensuality, languor, and irony. Rarely singing blues, Holiday performed mostly popular material, communicating deep emotion by stripping down rather than dressing up words and lines. “If you find a tune that's got something to do with you, you just feel it, and when you sing it, other people feel it, too,” Holiday once explained. According to the Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, “She was the first and is perhaps still the greatest of jazz singers, if the essence of jazz singing is to make the familiar sound fresh, and to make any lyric come alive with personal meaning for the listener.”

Holiday's life was a study in hardship. Her parents married when she was three, but her musician father was seldom present and the couple soon divorced. Receiving little schooling as a child, Holiday scrubbed floors and ran errands for a nearby brothel so she could listen to idols Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith on the Victrola in its parlor. Brutally raped at ten, she was sent to a reformatory for “seducing” her adult attacker; at fourteen she was jailed for prostitution. Determined to find work as a dancer or singer in Harlem, Holiday moved to New York City in 1928 and landed her first job at Jerry Preston's Log Cabin, where her vocals moved customers to tears. Discovered in another Harlem club by jazz record producer John Hammond in 1932, she made her first recording a year later with Benny Goodman's orchestra. She began to record regularly for Columbia, usually under the direction of Teddy Wilson, backed by small studio bands comprised of the day's best jazz sidemen. These included saxophonist and soulmate Lester Young, whose style approximated Holiday's own; it was he who gave the pretty, dignified young singer the nickname “Lady Day.”

Read more

Tags

Photos

Albums

 

Rare West Coast...

Nimbus West Records
2014

buy
 

Music For Torching +...

Nimbus West Records
2013

buy
 

The Ben Webster/Harry...

Nimbus West Records
2012

buy
 

Lady Day - The...

Nimbus West Records
2012

buy
 

Anthology

Nimbus West Records
2011

buy
 

Solitude

Nimbus West Records
2011

buy

Watch

Similar

Sarah Vaughan Sarah Vaughan
voice / vocals
Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald
voice / vocals
Bessie Smith Bessie Smith
voice / vocals
Dinah Washington Dinah Washington
voice / vocals
Carmen McRae Carmen McRae
voice / vocals
Madeleine Peyroux Madeleine Peyroux
voice / vocals
Dakota Staton Dakota Staton
voice / vocals
Anita O'Day Anita O'Day
voice / vocals
Eartha Kitt Eartha Kitt
voice / vocals
Etta James Etta James
voice / vocals
Betty Carter Betty Carter
voice / vocals
Peggy Lee Peggy Lee
voice / vocals
Helen Humes Helen Humes
voice / vocals

Shop Amazon

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.