films: lady sings the blues

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On this day in music history: April 7, 1973 - “Lady Sings The Blues - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 2 weeks, also peaking at #2 on the R&B album chart on April 21, 1973. Produced by Gil Askey, it is recorded at Motown Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA from Late 1971 - Early 1972. The thirty five track double album serves as the soundtrack to the biopic about jazz vocal icon Billie Holiday, and stars Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor. The soundtrack incorporates Ross’ versions of Holiday’s best known songs along with clips of dialogue from the film. The album comes in a lavishly designed gatefold sleeve made to look like a vintage 78 RPM album, featuring still photos from the film inside the sleeve and an eight page booklet featuring more photos. The records themselves also feature specially designed custom labels (rather than standard Motown labels). The track “Good Morning Heartache” is released as a single and peaks at #34 on the Hot 100 and #20 on the R&B singles chart.

Lady Sings The Blues

Born Elinore Harris, Billie Holiday had a difficult teen and young adulthood period, which included working in brothels, both as a cleaning woman and a prostitute, and being raped. Through this difficulty, she dreamed of becoming a jazz singer. She got her initial singing break when she applied at a Harlem club that was looking for a dancer, but where she got hired as a singer. There, she met and fell in love with the suave Louis McKay. After this initial break, Billie wanted her singing career to move to the mainstream clubs in downtown Manhattan. She took a risk when she agreed to be the lead singer for the Reg Hanley Band, a primarily white group, who convinced her that she would have to make her mark in regional tours before her Manhattan dream could happen. As Billie tried to advance her career, pressures of life, including being a black woman, led to her not so secret substance abuse (especially of heroin), not so secret because of her increasingly erratic behavior, both on stage and off. As those around her, including Louis, worked to support Billie emotionally to get off drugs, Billie faced other issues, such as open narcotic use being a criminal offense, which in combination with the effects of the heroin use itself could be Billie’s downfall despite her singing talent.

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My only company was a cat I liked who sometimes used to help me in and out of my gowns before I went on stage. When he wasn’t doing that, he was helping himself in and out of them. We took to calling him Miss Freddy and he was always good for a laugh. He was close enough to my size, too, so a fitter or dressmaker could work on him and not bug me. He was crazy for a lynx cape I had. It looked better on him than it did on me, too. Although the police didn’t always think so. They’re so narrow-minded they were always picking on him for being overdressed. I’d have to go down to the station and bail him out–and whatever part of my wardrobe he had on him.
—  –Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues