Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan, Baltimore, April 7th 1915 - New York, July 17th 1959) was an American singer of Jazz. Although less popular than its contemporary Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald, ''' Lady Day ''', as it is called, allured always a public of amateurs, and is regarded as one of largest the Diva S than the Jazz knew.
Its single, rocky and lyric voice at the same time, carried the marks of a painful life. Marked by its sufferings, excessive, fragile, Billie found in the song the little of peace and freedom which was promised to him, before its untimely death at forty-four years.
Woman, black, poor
Eleanora Fagan is born with Baltimore in 1915. His/her mother, Sadie Fagan, are 19 years old and his/her father, Clarence Holiday, have 17 of them. In Lady Sings the Blues , Billie Holiday, rewriting its history, removes a few years with his/her father, more still with his mother, and in fact a married couple. It is one of the many deformations of the reality which Billie itself maintained and of which its autobiography prolonged the effects. Reality is a little less idyllic. Clarence and Sadie never married. Clarence Holiday does not recognize the child, he is guitarist of Jazz, and passes his life in the clubs the night, on the roads the day. Sadie, his/her mother, does not have time to deal with Eleanora and entrusts it to its family: the young girl goes from one hearth to the other while his/her mother connects the odd jobs with Baltimore, while often travelling to New York where it multiplies the male meetings, in general remunerated.
Small Eleanora does not have the so easy life: it endures violences of her aunt Ida, and undergoes a first traumatism: one day, whereas it makes the nap in the arms of its back grandmother, this one dies in its sleep. Eleanora awakes strangled by the arms of died and panics. She will remain plunged in a guilty Mutisme during weeks.
Sadie takes again Eleanora with its load after a few years. It is ten years old when, during one of the many nights that his/her mother passes outside, it is violated by a neighbor. She is entrusted thereafter to the convent of Good Pasteur, where the ill-treatments and humiliations are currency. Sadie manages to make some leave his/her daughter and takes again it with it, with New York where they live from now on. In 1928, Sadie male prostitute and installs Eleanora in a brothel. The life of the young girl is made men, violences, of a turning in prison. Into full Harlem, under the Prohibition, Eleanora discovers the clandestine boxes, where alcohol runs with floods and where the Jazz resounds of the evening in the morning. Almost by chance, Eleanora meets a young saxophonist, Kenneth Hollon, and takes down with him its first engagements, in the Queens and with Brooklyn. It is fifteen years old and chooses a name of scene. Not any. When, little girl, her father passed to see it, he laughed at this real tomboy and Bill called it. It takes again this nickname which it leans in the name of her father, that it manages besides to find at the time, whereas he plays in the orchestra of Fletcher Henderson. Billie Holiday was born.
The first successes
A little thanks to his/her father, but especially thanks to his talent, Billie crosses many musicians, in particular Bobby Henderson with which it turns in several clubs of Harlem, and of which it becomes soon the partner. The life is not pink in America of the crisis: Billie is satisfied with the tips, which accumulate when it entonne Trav' lin' All Alone or Them There Eyes .
In 1933, John H. Hammond, producer for Columbia, discovers Billie in a club where she sings by chance, at the time of a replacement. Immediately convinced of its talent, it opens to him the studios of Columbia for a session with another young musician under contract with the firm, the clarinettist Benny Goodman: this day, it records Your Mother' S Sound-in-Law and Riffin' the Scotch , and gains thirty-five dollars there. The following year, she sings with Bobby Henderson in Apollo, the room with the mode where one comes to applaud the young talents. Their connection ceases little time afterwards, Bobby being already married. Billie meets other promising musicians: among them, To ballast Young, committed by Fletcher Henderson. The singer and the saxophonist bind friendship immediately. To ballast calls it Lady Day , Billie calls it President , or more briefly Prez . It and furrow the clubs to him after their respective engagements, of the evening in the morning.
At the top
Billie also sings with Duke Ellington which chooses it for its short-measuring Symphony in Black , in which it interprets Saddest Tale . At the same time, it starts a connection with the young saxophonist Ben Webster. John Hammond programs on July 2nd, 1935 a recording for the Brunswick firm, with Billie, Ben Webster, like Benny Goodman, the pianist Teddy Wilson, the trumpet player John Truehart, the double bass player John Kirby and the beater Cosy Cole. What has Little Moonlight Can C and Miss Brown to You arises, engraved to perfection, and appears about it in the best sales of the year. All goes well for Billie, which connects the love affairs and installs his/her mother with the head of a small restaurant where, often, one is found after the night for the breakfast.
It consequently becomes one of the high-speed motorboats of the New Yorkean jazz, through many engagements which it regularly shares with Teddy Wilson. The style of Billie, intimist, adapts badly to the greatest shows, reserved with Bessie Smith and its imitatrices. It does not matter: its discs with Lester Young are sold well and Billie sings soon with the full orchestra of Count Basie, then with that of Artie Shaw. A black singer in a white orchestra ! The round with this last is however curtailed, because of the Racisme of the States of the south, where it cannot sing, nor even to hold a hotel room or to enter a restaurant with the musicians of the orchestra.
Strange FruitReturned in New York, Billie continuous to sing in the clubs thanks to engagements which John Hammond finds to him, in particular with the Café Society . It is at that time that one sees it drinking more and more, and smoking of the marijuana between the sets. It is at that time also that it connects female connections and that it is called Mister Holiday .
In March 1939, a young professor of college, Lewis Allan, writes a poem and itself puts in music. He then proposed in Billie Holiday to interpret Strange Fruit . This metaphor of the lynching of the blacks in the breeze of the south becomes the song-headlight of the Café Society and Billie. The song unchains the controversy, and the recording which in is soon drawn meets an immense success.
See also: Strange Fruit
The recovery by Billie of Gloomy Sunday in 1941, a song of despair on the topic of the suicide translated of the Hungarian to English in the Years 1930, prolongs this success in a similar register, although less committed.
See also: Gloomy Sunday
The drug and the disappearance of " Duchess"
The following years see Billie Holiday multiplying the recordings, engagements, successes, with musicians of the stature of Roy Eldridge, Art Tatum, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie… But it also starts a connection with Jimmy Monroe, for which it leaves the residence of his/her mother, before they marry precipitately. His/her new companion is a swindler, doubled of a drug addict. He accustoms it to the Opium, then with the Cocaïne, before finding himself in prison.
Billie divorces Monroe and connects the adventures again, until its meeting with Joe Guy, a trumpet player Be-bop who provides it in Héroïne. At the time same where it is the first black artist to sing with the " Met", where it signs a gold contract at Decca, it is found under the cut of Joe Guy, dependant with heroin… Billie speaks about it without concession:
In the clubs, he murmurs himself that it does not respect its engagements, that it is often late, that it is mistaken in the words. In 1945, Joe Guy assembles a great round for Billie: " Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra". The round is already well started when Billie learns death from his/her Sadie mother, Duchess , like had called it Lester. Billie is ploughed up, it sinks in the depression, it takes refuge a little more in alcohol, drug, and curtails its round.
The shortly after the war, Billie Holiday is with most, it starts its collaboration with the pianist Bobby Tucker, his discs are sold well (it signed in 1944 at Decca, it triumphs in Town Hall over New York in February 1946, and its repertory is extended to some indissociable songs of its character: To coil Man , Good morning Heartache (written for it by Irene Wilson), and its own compositions: Fine and Mellow , Billie' S Blues , Don' T Explain and God Bless the Child . It also turns in the film New Orleans of Arthur Lubin, a rather poor feature film, but which joins together large jazzmen, of which Louis Armstrong and Woody Hermann.
At the same time it joins again with Joe Guy and adopts LSD. Its business manager Joe Glaser imposes a detoxification therapy in a private clinic to him, beginning 1947. In vain: a few weeks later it is stopped in possession of narcotics and is condemned to one year of prison. Billie makes scandal, and is moreover in one difficult financial position: its royalties disappeared in drug and the pockets from the men who surround it… It leaves prison on March 16th 1948, for good behavior, but ruined. The 27, she sings with Carnegie Hall, more beautiful than ever, the opened out voice, her eternal Gardénia S in the hair. She sings until exhaustion: twenty and one songs, plus six for the recalls. A triumph.
John Levy, debts and always drug…
From its coming out of prison, Billie was seen withdrawing its work card to have enfreint the criteria of “good morality”. It cannot sing any more in the clubs of New York (or any selling place of alcohol). Only alternative, big rooms in concert: difficult to fill the spans of them more one or two evenings of continuation. In addition it is implied in a battle of agents, between Joe Glaser and ED Fishman, which deals from now on with it.
Despite everything, Billie occurs with Lionel Hampton with the radio, and with Count Basie in Strand Theater. It leaves from now on with John Levy, gangster of second zone which one calls by derision “Al Capone”. At the time, it also maintains a relation lesbian with Tallulah Bankhead, actress of good family, and has a short sexual relationship with Marlene Dietrich. However, Billie is always plunged in heroin, and the withdrawal of its chart the force to be sung out of New York, engagements less interesting and less better remunerated. Moreover, John Levy piles up from now on all that it gains and terrorizes it. It is made take in possession narcotics with San Francisco. In counterpart, Tallulah Bankhead makes play its relations, of which J. Edgar Hoover, then director of FBI, thanks to what Billie is discharged. In spite of that the troubles persist: it always undergoes the recriminations of John Levy, his guide and friendly Bobby Tucker gives up it, the police force follows it closely and it misses several times being made take in possession heroin… The press does not miss an occasion to titrate on it, like Down Beat in September 1950: “Billie, again in the troubles”.
During a recording in 1949 for Decca, with in particular Horace Henderson, To ballast Young and Louis Armstrong, Billie has great difficulty to hold the rate/rhythm, it is pointed out by its delays, its excesses, and a bad diction. Decca thus does not renew its contract in 1950, Billie is plunged in the debts to the neck: John Levy, who boxes his seals, did not pay any invoice. When it leaves it, it loses much money, but finds a certain freedom. Billie remains however forced to make long rounds since it cannot still sing with New York. At the end of 1950, it joins again with success with Chicago, by dividing the poster of the Hi-Note with the young person Miles Davis.
The one time end
Louis McKay and the return to success
In 1951, Billie Holiday finds a small house of production, Aladdin, for which it records some discs, badly received by criticisms. It also meets with Detroit one of her former lovers, Louis McKay, whom it had known in Harlem when it was 16 years old. Married and father of two children, Louis McKay becomes nevertheless his new guard and contributes to start again his career. It is installed on the west coast, and signs a contract for the label Verve of Norman Granz. It then finds partners worthy of it: Charlie Shavers with the trumpet, Barney Kessel with the guitar, Oscar Peterson with the piano, Ray Brown with the double bass, Alvine Stoller with the battery and Flip Philips with the saxophone. Result: the disc Billie Holiday sings obtains one big hit and is followed several other sessions. Billie is again seen nevertheless refusing its work permit and alternates the tiring rounds and the great concerts (in Apollo, with Carnegie Hall).
1954 sees Billie carrying out an old dream: its first round in Europe. Accompanied by Louis McKay and his pianist Carl Drinkard, it goes in Sweden, with the Denmark, in Belgium, Germany, with the Netherlands, Paris, in Suisse. It passes by again by Paris as a tourist, before joining the England where its concerts are crowned success. A profitable round and one of the best memories of Billie. Of return to the country, in spite of drug, alcohol, it is exceeded. It occurs with Carnegie Hall, the jazz festival of Newport, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and continuous to record for Verve. Down Beat decrees a price especially created to him for it. She engages also an accompanying news, the young person Memry Midgett. Their relation is more than friendly, and Memry helps Billie in its attempts to take down drug. In vain. Its influence does not like besides McKay which makes it give up.
April 2nd 1955, Billie Holiday finds Carnegie Hall where it takes part in the great concert in homage to Charlie Parker, dead on March 12th. At the sides of Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, To ballast Young, Billy Eckstine, Sammy Davis Jr., Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk… Billie closes the concert, in the four hour old neighborhoods of the morning. In August 1955, it records a new album for Verve: Music for Torching , a chief of work which it carries out in company of Jimmy Rowles with the piano, Sweets Edison with the trumpet, Barney Kessel with the guitar, Benny Carter with the viola, John Simmons with low and Larry Bunker with the battery. Then, it finds the clubs of the west coast.
Lady in Satin
In 1956, Billie is stopped with Louis McKay in drug possession: a new lawsuit is envisaged. It carries out a new detoxification therapy, at the time where its autobiography Lady Sings the Blues leaves, essentially a compilation of all its old interviews joined together by the journalist William Dufty, admiror of the diva. The health of Billie is degraded more and more. Its new pianist, Corky Hauls, will testify later to the martyrdom of Billie: its exhaustion, ravages of the drugs and alcohol, long sleeves to hide the traces of punctures which cover even the hands to him, tiredness, the weight loss, intoxication before the concerts. The prospect for its lawsuit with McKay terrorizes it. Lastly, this last is devoted less to it…
It appears with the festival of Newport, like on television, in the emission The Sound off Jazz , on CBS, in company, inter alia, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge, but also of the young person Mal Waldron, its new guide.
Louis McKay and Billie marry on March 28th 1957 with the Mexico, not to have to testify one against the other at the time of their lawsuit. But their history is indeed finished. Once the marked judgment (a testing period the twelve months), McKay definitively leaves Billie and this one engages a divorce procedure. It records Lady in Satin in February 1958, with entirely new songs and an orchestra directed by Ray Ellis, author of arrangements. A poignant album, just as its last whole, simply entitled Billie Holiday , recorded beginning 1959. She also makes an appearance with the jazz festival of Monterey in October 1958, and carries out a new European round in November. She is whistled in Italy, where its service is shortened. In Paris, it ensures in large-sorrow a concert with the Olympia, exténuée. Its round takes water. It agrees to play Mars Club with Evil Waldron and Michel Gaudry with the double bass: the public is very won over to Billie which finds success there. One hustles oneself in the Mars Club, one finds the celebrities of the time there: Juliette Gréco, Serge Gainsbourg, or Francoise Sagan which will write:
Lady , after Prez …
For several years already, Billie has been sick. She has edema S with the legs, but more especially a advanced Cirrhose. However it does not moderate its excesses. She drinks morning at the evening. Exhausted by its second European round, it sets out again a few months later with London to take part in a television program, " Chelsea At Nine". The return is difficult. Billie learns on March 15th, 1959, the death of his/her friend, Lester Young. Billie is ploughed up. The next April 7th, she celebrates her 44 years. She ensures of engagements in the Massachusetts, then on May 25th, she sings with the Phoenix Theater of New York, for a concert of benevolence. In the slides, his/her friends do not even recognize it. Some, whose Joe Glaser, want to make it hospitalize: she refuses. May 30th, it crumbles at it and is allowed in Metropolitan Hospital of Harlem. In addition to his cirrhosis, one diagnoses a Impaired renal function. It is treated under Méthadone and recovers little by little. One prohibits alcohol and the Cigarette to him, but Billie always finds a means of smoking in hiding-place. Even worse: June 11th, one discovers a little white powder hidden in a box of handkerchiefs. Billie Holiday is stopped and its room put under police surveillance during several days. One envisages to judge it after his convalescence. This one seems to occur as well as possible, but on July 10th, its state worsens. One detects a renal Infection and a pulmonary congestion . Louis McKay and William Dufty are with his bedside. It receives the last sacraments on July 15th. July 17th, in three hours ten of the morning, Billie Holiday dies in the hospital.
The funeral ceremony proceeds on July 21st, 1959 in the church St Paul. Three thousand people are present and hustle themselves until in Columbus Avenue. It is buried with the cemetery St Raymond, in the Bronx, the same tomb as her mother. Louis McKay makes move his coffin in a tomb separated in 1960. With its death, Billie leaves with its ex-husband and only heir, thousand three hundred and forty five dollars. And its rights: at the end of 1959, in only six months, the royalties on its record sales rise with a hundred and thousand dollars. What to have an good idea of what Billie could spend as well as of all of which it could be despoiled.
Its life in its voice
There is no better identifiable voice, and which does not resist all the labels better, that of Billie Holiday. At 20 years already, Billie was émancipée of its models, in particular Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. Its stamp, its style single and are recognized by all the amateurs of jazz on the other side of the Atlantic. Its articulation a little trailing is compensated by a direction of the single rate/rhythm, playing with the unperceivable delays, phrased relaxed which create the so particular swing of its services. Billie at 20 years, it is also a a little enroué stamp but a perfectly clear and admired diction, as well as a discrete Vibrato, of which it uses to give to such word the weight necessary. Billie Holiday does not sing, it plays in all the directions of the term, it is at the same time child and actress. Already in the years 1930, this so particular sonority and intimist assert themselves, free to deprive themselves of a greater popular success: all along its career, Billie misses power of a Bessie Smith and agility of a Ella Fitzgerald. Fortunately, Billie meets a favorable context thanks to two elements: the generalization of the micro and fashion of the slow songs, refrains of love and Blues. The fact of having been able to sing very young person with best the jazzmen of the time could only stimulate this talent, and the agreement between Billie and Lester Young passes very close to the Mimétisme without never falling into the imitation. Excesses of Billie are not without consequence on its voice. As of the Years 1940, she often pains to launch out at the beginning in the concerts and of the meetings of recording, she needs glass of gin or cognac “to clear up the voice”… She has also much evil to renew her repertory and retains only with large-sorrow the words of new songs. With the passing of years, its so famous diction becomes pasty, its slightly enroué stamp becomes raucous, raspy. Physical tiredness is added to all that. At forty years, Billie suffers when she sings, and that gets along. One also hears that it does not rely any more on it, in this wavering voice, which so often betrays it.
But what one hears also it is that it puts all its heart at it. The charm always operates, until in Lady in Satin , album missed for some, but which occupies a particular place in the discotheque of truths in love with Billie. The arranger and leader, Ray Ellis, left exhausted a recording where the diva made him live a martyrdom, at the time refuses to ensure the mixing. But some time later, by hearing the album, by noting the infinite sadness which characterizes songs as I' m has Fool to Want You or You' ve Changed , Ray Ellis includes/understands the artistic range of such a testimony, and agrees to record with Billie its album-will, Billie Holiday . The musician evoked more once memory of the recording of Lady in Satin :
“I would say that the most intense moment in emotion was to see it listening to the playback I' m has Fool to Want You . It had the tears with the eyes. When the album was finished, I listened to all the catches in the control room. I must admit that I was dissatisfied with his work, but it is because I listened to the music, not the emotion. It is only by hearing the final mixing, a few weeks later, which I included/understood that its performance was really formidable. ”
Less popular at its time than Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday has nevertheless a single weight in the history of the Jazz, and since its death the sales of its albums never bent, quite to the contrary.
Quickly, certain singers tried to imitate her style, generally without success. Its influence feels in addition at certain younger personalities, and which took their lesson, especially, in the relaxation of Billie. It is the case in particular of Frank Sinatra, which admired it so much and had become one of his/her friends closest at the end to its life, or of Abbey Lincoln. In the decade 1970, Diana Ross (which successfully play its character in the film adaptation of Lady Sings the Blues ), Esther Philips or Nina Simone assume without complex their filiation with Lady Day. The same applies to Janis Joplin, at which one finds the influence of Billie in very an other register.
Its songs also took part in this influence, in particular God Bless the Child , but also Strange Fruit and Gloomy Sunday , which it had so easily adapted.
The influence of Billie feels today directly on many singers of jazz, which support besides rather badly the comparison with their model. Macy Gray admitted this influence. It is not the case of Norah Jones, of Erykah Badu, nor moreover of Madeleine Peyroux, although the similarity is obvious in this precise case.
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