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.
Billie Holiday album cover art by artist David Stone Martin (1913-1992)
All or Nothing at All, 1957 Music for Torching, 1955 Billie Holiday Sings, 1952 Billie Holiday, 1954 Billie Holiday Live at Jazz at the Philharmonic, 1954 Stay with Me, 1959 An Evening with Billie Holiday/Recital, 1952/1956
Here are the three portraits I did for Black History Month last February: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Moms Mabley, Billie Holiday. I’m hoping to do a lot more this February. Who do you want to see portraits of? Add your suggestions in the notes <3 <3 <3 I’m going to try to do them in watercolor, and I want to start with Rosa Parks, Malcom X, Grace Jones…Ilhan Omar! Idk, this is the beginning of a very long list!
Black history lessons in classrooms shouldn’t be limited to the names of men and only a few women. Especially when there are countless women who’ve made enormous strides for the black community, too.
The revolutionary words Angela Davis spoke, the record-breaking feats of Wilma Rudolph and the glass ceiling-shattering efforts of Shirley Chisolm paved the way for black women and girls across the country to dream big and act courageously.
Here are 28 phenomenal women everyone should acquaint themselves with this black history month.
“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
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]
Eleanora Fagan (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), professionally known as Billie Holiday, was an American jazz musician and singer-songwriter with a career spanning nearly thirty years. Nicknamed “Lady Day” by her friend and music partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz music and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She was known for her vocal delivery and improvisational skills, which made up for her limited range and lack of formal music education.
I was lucky to spend so much of my own time with so many great people. I spent a day with Billie Holiday in her garden level apartment on Central Park West. I brought my 3 year old daughter Leslie. I have a picture of Leslie on Billie’s lap while Billie is comforting her because she had a splinter or something. She was a lovely person, not at all the bitch that some have portrayed her to be. She had a collection of ivory elephants and told my daughter to go and pick out whatever one she wanted and she could keep it. Leslie has it to this day. I told Billie, “enough with the formal pictures” and we walked over to Central Park and I snapped some shots against some pine trees. She let me do whatever I wanted and these are some of the finest things I’ve done. She was lovely. - Burt Goldblatt on photographing Billie Holiday, 1958
“My mind was filled with that great song “Lover Man” as Billie Holiday sings it; I had my own concert in the bushes. “Someday we’ll meet, and you’ll dry my tears, and whisper sweet, little things in my ear, hugging and a-kissing, oh what we’ve been missing, Lover Man, oh where can you be…” It’s not the words so much as the great harmonic tune and the way Billie sings it, like a woman stroking her man’s hair in soft lamp-light.” – Jack Kerouac, On The Road.