Billie Holiday Centennial

Billie Holiday (1915-1959), New York, 1949 – Photograph by Herman Leonard

Today, April 7, 2015 is the Billie Holiday Centennial

Billie Holiday was born, Eleanora Fagan, in Philadelphia exactly one hundred years ago today.

Allen Ginsberg, writing in 1947:

Billie Holiday is well-known in jazz circles as an amazing great woman. Little Jack (Melody) and Vicki (Russell), who know her, promised to arrange for me to meet her. I had long hoped and expected to meet her one time or another. Perhaps someday I will. She is at present barred from singing in New York and in trouble with the law because she is a heroin addict. All this I suppose is more atmosphere…”

and, from the same notes:

“Little Jack and Vicki came over and entertained me; it was about this time that they brought over the phonograph. I remember this with a certain nostalgia as they brought along a lot of fine jazz records. Particularly a set of songs by a negro blues singer – a very profound and subtle woman named Billie Holiday. I have been listening to her records for years. Little Jack and Herbert (Huncke) introduced me to one particular record of hers that I bought myself a few weeks later, called “That Old Devil Called Love“, which expresses her resignation  and suffering joy at the prospect of a repetition of the old pleasure-pain of an unhappy love-affair – “When I hear that siren song/I just know I gotta go along”. These particular words of the lyrics are sung with such a tender , winning, knowing sensitivity, that I recognized why Herbert, Little Jack and others have thought that this was one of Holiday’s best records.”

“Death is the silence
between songs
of Billie Holiday’s
olden Golden Days.”
(Allen Ginsberg – Journal Entry, Paris, April 13, 1961)

Allen Ginsberg in 1966 (testifying to the Drugs Commission)

“The mortal sufferings of our most celebrated  heroic Negro musicians, from Billie Holiday thru Thelonious Monk, at the hands of police over the drug issue are well-known. Such sadistic persecutions have outraged the heart of America for decades. I mean the cultural and spiritual heart – US music.”

A classic interview with Billie (by Willis Conover from February 15, 1956 (on the “Voice of America Jazz Hour”) – Billie: “I think I copied my style from Louis Armstrong, because I always liked the big volume and the big sound that Bessie Smith got when she sang, but, when I was quite young, I heard a record (that) Louis Armstrong made, called the West End Blues, and he doesn’t say any words, you know, and I thought this is wonderful, you know, and I listened to the feeling that he got from it, so I wanted Louis Armstrong’s feeling and I want(ed) the big volume that Bessie Smith got, but, I found that that didn’t work with me, because I didn’t have a big voice, you know. So, anyway, between the two of them, I sort of got Billie Holiday…

Me and My Old Voice – Billie Holiday in Her Own Words (a late ravaged Billie) is here.
“(M)e and my old voice. It just goes up a little bit and comes down a little bit. It’s not legit. I do not got a legitimate voice. This voice of mine is a mess. A cat got to know what he’s doing when he plays with me.”)”

Two earlier interviews (one from Canada in 1952 and one from Sweden in 1954) may be listened to here and here

More interviews and pictures of Billie here, here and here.
Here‘s a Billie Holiday “Pictography”

The BBC documentary -The Billie Holiday Story may be viewed here

Billie Holiday – The Life and Artistry of Lady Day – here

Two essential sites – the official site – and the unofficial site. (The latter containing any number of treasures – don’t miss, for example, the excerpt from Hettie Jones Big Star Fallin’ Mama and Frank O’Hara‘s famous poem, “The Day Lady Died” (“while she whispered a song along the keyboard/ to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing”)

(Billie died, incidentally, Friday, July 17, 1959, at 3.10, aged 44, at Metropolitan Hospital, Room 6812, New York)

***Already started ( it started last Sunday) and continuing through until Friday April 10th – non-stop Billie! – from New York’s premier jazz station, the invaluable WKCR –  The Billie Holiday Centennial Festival –  don’t delay! go there now!
[no longer available – but don’t miss every year WKCR’s remarkable Billie’s Birthday broadcast]

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