April 7th, 2015 would mark the 100th birthday, of the legendary Billie Holiday! Born on April 7th, 1915 in Philadelphia, her innovative vocal style has influenced a multitude of singers around the world, over the past century.
There have been several musical tributes released in her honor throughout the years and this year is no different. Three that stand out, one released prior to her birthday, two CDs drop on the actual anniversary. Molly Johnson’s “Because of Billie” and Cassandra Wilson’s “Coming Forth By Day” hit stores and are available for download on the 7th; Jose James’ “Yesterday I Had the Blues: Music of Billie Holiday” was available on March 31st.
Three of my favorites are Etta James’ “Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday,” Dee Dee Bridgewater’s “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee” and Tony Bennett’s “Tony Bennett on Holiday: A Tribute to Billie Holiday.”
Jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln essentially dedicated her life paying tribute to the musical icon. Her recordings featuring her music include “A Tribute to Billie Holiday,” “Abbey Sings Billie” Volumes 1 & 2 and “Abbey Sings Billie: Live at the U.J.C. – A Tribute to Billie Holiday.” Taken from http://www.contactmusic.com: “Born in Chicago, Illinois, (she) had a long and distinguished career, and continued to perform until the time of her death. She was heavily influenced by Billie Holiday, and mimicked the raw and strong vocal style of the seminal jazz and pop singer… Lincoln was also an actress, starring in the 1964 independent film “Nothing But a Man,” and alongside Sidney Poitier in 1968’s “For Love of Ivy” – a performance that gained her a Golden Globe nomination… In 1990, she appeared alongside Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington in the Spike Lee movie “Mo’ Better Blues”… Her musical career contained numerous highlights, including appearing on the 1960 civil rights record “We Insist! – Freedom Now Suite,” by Max Roach, whom she was married to from 1962 till 1970. On 14th August 2010, Lincoln’s death was announced to the New York Times by her brother David Wooldridge, who said she had suffered from deteriorating health for several years.”
Musician Lester Young dubbed Holiday “Lady Day.” My profound awareness of the legendary jazz singer, was by way of the feature film “Lady Sings the Blues” starring Diana Ross – http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2014/07/26/15-funky-musical-biopics-honorable-mentions-dream-pics-conflicts/ Ross’ version of “Good Morning Heartache” resonates with my spirit today as deeply as it did when I first heard it. I can recall hearing the words as a child, not fully understanding the sentiment, later realizing the depth of the emotion in my twenties. It’s probably my favorite performance form both of them. A few of some of Holiday’s other famous tunes include: “God Bless the Child,” “Them There Eyes,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” and “Strange Fruit.”
Ross scored an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Holiday, in the ‘Sings the Blues’ film, that was produced by pioneer Motown owner Berry Gordy. Although Billie Dee Williams delivered a fantastic performance of Holiday’s husband Louis McKay (m. 1957–1959) in ‘Blues’, she had been married twice before him to Joe Guy (1951–1957) and Jimmy Monroe (1941–1947). In 1948, Holiday played Carnegie Hall to a sold-out audience, she set a record for the number of seats sold. It was that show that inspired the title for the film. At the time she didn’t have a current hit record, and had initially hesitated, because she wasn’t sure people would accept her after being arrested for drug use. This blog is in tribute to undisputedly one of the greatest singers of all time, Eleanora Fagan better known as Billie Holiday, who made her transition on July 17th, 1959 at the age of 44.
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