billie holiday

Billie Holiday was performing in a Manhattan club in 1943, and between sets she took a seat at a table and ordered her usual Top and Bottom (a mixture of gin and port wine). Two white sailors from the South, on leave in the Big Apple, approached her, wanting to know where a “darkie” got off wearing a mink coat. When Lady told them to get lost they snuffed out their cigarettes in her mink. Without pause, Holiday told them to meet her outside, if they had any balls. At which point Holiday proceeded to beat them both unconscious with her fists. It was a bad idea to mess with Lady Day.
—  Rich English on the toughness of Billie Holiday
Queens; A collection of favorite songs from the queens of jazz. [listen]

It’s A Beautiful Evening, Dorothy Dandridge / Cry Me A River, Ella Fitzgerald / Sophisticated Lady, Billie Holiday / Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Nina Simone / Mad About the Boy, Dinah Washington / Someone to Watch Over Me, Lena Horne / Moonlight in Vermont, Sarah Vaughan / Here’s That Rainy Day, Nancy Wilson / I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face, Ella Fitzgerald / Stay With It, Dorothy Dandridge / Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, Dinah Washington / I’ll Be Around, Lena Horne / Back In Your Own Backyard, Nancy Wilson / I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), Nina Simone / Dreamsville, Sarah Vaughan / One For My Baby (And One More For the Road), Billie Holiday


CultureMUSIC: Billie Holiday

As you can see from the avatar, Lady Day is a big favorite. These recently discovered photos from a French magazine are some of the most gorgeous color shots of her that I’ve seen. So ridiculously talented and so beautiful.


happy 100th birthday, billie holiday // april 7, 1915 - july 17, 1959 // “no two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

“Behind me, Billie was on her last song. I picked up the refrain, humming a few bars. Her voice sounded different to me now. Beneath the layers of hurt, beneath the ragged laughter, I heard a willingness to endure. Endure - and make music that wasn’t there before." President Barack Obama

"With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing…" Frank Sinatra

"Once, when I was playing at the Apollo, Billie Holiday was working a block away at the Harlem Opera House. Some of us went over between shows to catch her, and afterwards we went backstage. I did something then, and I still don’t know if it was the right thing to do - I asked for her autograph.” Ella Fitzgerald

“If I hear a record once, I usually never listen to it again. I rarely listen to music - unless it’s Billie Holiday." Barbra Streisand

"I have the ability to sing with emotion and feeling, but if you say I sound like Billie Holiday, that’s cool. Let’s look at who Billie was: she was this person, this singer, this beautiful diva who could move the audience with the slightest gesture of her hand." Erykah Badu

"Billie Holiday….she is so subtle, she can milk you with two notes. She can go no farther than from a to b, and she can make you feel like she told you the whole universe…" Janis Joplin

"My great hero is Billie Holiday." Tim Curry

Strange Fruit
  • Strange Fruit
  • Billie Holiday

“For her performance of “Strange Fruit” at the Café Society, she [Billie Holiday] had waiters silence the crowd when the song began. During the song’s long introduction, the lights dimmed and all movement had to cease. As Holiday began singing, only a small spotlight illuminated her face. On the final note, all lights went out and when they came back on, Holiday was gone.

Holiday said her father Clarence Holiday was denied treatment for a fatal lung disorder because of prejudice and that singing “Strange Fruit” reminded her of the incident. “It reminds me of how Pop died, but I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South,” she said in her autobiography.” [Wikipedia]


“I spent only one night photographing Billie Holiday,” he [Carl Van Vechten] wrote, “but it was the whole of one night and it seemed like a whole career.” The session began badly. Gerry Major had arranged the meeting, and had asked Holiday to wear a gown for the sitting. Holiday, however, arrived “at the appointed hour in a plain gray suit and facial expression equally depressing.” In spite of his disappointment, Van Vechten began photographing Holiday. It wasn’t going well and he was considering giving up when he thought to show Holiday his photographs of Bessie Smith. The photographs brought Holiday to tears; she explained that Smith had been an inspiration to her in the early days of her career. Their discussion of Smith softened the mood, and Holiday agreed to wearing a drape fashioned to look like an evening dress instead of her suit for some of the photographs.

At midnight, Holiday announced that she had to go home; she promised to come back shortly. Van Vechten, afraid she might go in search of drugs, sent his assistant Saul Mauriber to Harlem with her to insure her return. Holiday and Mauriber reappeared with Mister, Holiday’s boxer. She was in a different mood entirely, more lively and relaxed. Van Vechten continued to photograph her for some time.

Afterward, “she related in great detail the sad, bittersweet story of her tempestuous life.” Van Vechten’s wife Fania soon joined the group, and “in a short time Fania, like the rest of us, was in tears, and suddenly, also like the rest of us, found herself attached to Billie as if she had known her intimately for years.” Holiday didn’t leave the apartment until shortly before dawn. “We never saw her again,” Van Vechten wrote, “but not one of us will ever forget her.”

Portraits of the Artists, Esquire Magazine (1962)

Billie Holiday photographed by Carl Van Vechten, c. March 1949


“William P. Gottlieb was an American photographer and newspaper columnist who is best known for his classic photographs of the leading performers of the ‘Golden Age’ of American Jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. Gottlieb’s photographs are among the best known and widely reproduced images of this era of jazz.” (x)

Photographed are: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, 52nd Street, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Hill, and Lena Horne.

“Believe me—the crowd gave me $18 in tips. I ran out the door. Bought a whole chicken. Ran up Seventh Avenue to my home. Mother and I ate that night— and we have been eating pretty well since.”

—Billie Holiday, recounts her first paid singing gig