A Century of Lady Day


Born Eleanora Fagen Gough or Elinore Harris either in Philidelphia or Baltimore depending on who you believe…Apparently she was born into poverty and dropped out of school in the 5th grade, possibly running errands in a brothel and her father may have been the jazz musician Clarence Holiday. It turns out we don’t really know with certainty a lot about Billie Holiday’s childhood…but there is no question about the impact she had on the musical world as an adult. People do agree that she was born on April 7th and that 2015 marks 100 years since her birth. In 1929 at the age of 14 she moved to Harlem to join her mother who had moved there the previous year.
She was ‘discovered’ at the age of 18 by the producer John Hammond (a member of the Vanderbilt family), he arranged for her first professional recording session with Benny Goodman in1933 which took place at 55 Fifth Avenue and 12th Street in Manhattan. She went on to work with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and many others, famously performing in the jazz clubs along Swing Street (52nd). Her singing forever changed the universe of jazz sining and beyond.
She had an amazingly successful career, in spite of or perhaps partially facilitating her troubles with substance abuse, touring and appearing in films, eventually performing to a sold out crowd at Carnegie Hall in 1948 with a fantastic 6 encores. Among many other accolades she was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and in 1994 she was given her own US postage stamp. Among her many memorable recordings are: “I Love You Porgy”, “Willow Weep For Me”, Strange Fruit”, “God Bless the Child” and so many others. Happy Birthday Billie!!