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

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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

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“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.

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happy 101st 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.” [insp.]

“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

“Once, when we were playing at the Apollo, 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 her for her autograph.”  Ella Fitzgerald 

“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

"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
Play

“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]

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Bessie Smith, a.k.a Empress of the Blues (April 15th, 1894-Sept 26, 1937)

Badassness: Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bessie had lost both parents by age 9. Bessie started performing on the streets then, and when she was a teen joined a traveling vaudeville show, becoming a protégé of Ma Rainey, (the Mother of the Blues). Bessie’s career took off and she eventually signed with Columbia records, becoming the highest paid Black entertainer in her day.

One of her most badass moments was when a wealthy white patron tried to pull her close for a kiss and Bessie shouted, “get the f**k away from me, I never heard of such sh*t!” Bessie died in a car crash at 43, but in her short life had a huge impact - Billie Holiday (our first Badass Bisexual!) credits Bessie as a major influence. Recently Queen Latifah played Bessie in a biopic.

Bisexuality: The early blues scene seemed a fairly safe space for Black women to be openly bi/lesbian. Blues singers like Bessie would drop hints or flat-out sing openly about their relationships, like in these lyrics from one of Bessie’s songs: “When you see two women walking hand in hand, just look ‘em over and try to understand: They’ll go to those parties—have the lights down low—only those parties where women can go.”

Bessie’s legal husband, Jack Gee, never could adjust to the show biz lifestyle or the fact that Bessie was bisexual. Supposedly the relationship ended because Bessie shot at her fleeing husband after hearing he’d slept with a chorus singer (who she beat up). Bessie later had a common-law marriage with her friend Richard Morgan. She was rumored to have had relationships with many women, including “male impersonator” Gladys Fergusson, but had a long, tumultuous affair with chorus singer Lillian Simpson. During a fight with Lillian, Bessie is famously quoted as saying, “I got twelve women on this show, and I can have one every night if I want it.”


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