Happy Birthday, Billie!
by Charles David
LADY DAY born Eleanora Harris in Baltimore Maryland, Billie Holiday was one of the greatest Jazz vocalist of her time and a legend whose music has aged timelessly, long after her death.
Billie and Ella were the women whose music my parents played constantly on their stereo and I still listen to them this very day. When I was a young teenager, Billie Holiday’s voice, was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and the lady, when in top form, was incomparable. I remember seeing her picture for the first time on the LP jacket of Lady Sings The Blues and how smitten a 13-year-old I was. Billie had the most striking face with a gorgeous set of round eyes and soft cheekbones that made me melt.
Inside Billie, stired profound sensitivity and pain, and beneath the pain, she showed a toughness that made her so unbelievably attractive. Even as a teenager I somehow understood the magnitude of the pain this brave women’s heart felt, as her music expressed an incredible depth of emotion that spoke of hard times and injustice as well as triumph. Billie’s career cooled somewhat in the later 1940s due in to personal problems including her mother’s death, alcohol abuse and a heroin addiction, that saw her loose her cabaret license to perform in New York.
With no licenses to perform in New York City nightclubs or on stage, for the majority of the 1950s, Billie traveled to other states throughout the U.S. performing. As a result, her audience and popularity grew even larger than before and she became a hit with the critics. Year after year, they crowned her the greatest vocalist in America. After the death of her dear friend, legendary saxophonist Lester Young in 1959, feeling as though she had nothing to live for, Billie died at the young age of forty-four.
Though her career was relatively short and often erratic, Billie Holiday bestowed upon this world a body of music as great as any vocalist.