Billie Holiday came from a very troubled and rough past, but was able to rise above her start to become one of the world’s greatest improvisational singers.
A Troubled, Turbulent Path to Success
‘I’ve been told that nobody sings the word ‘hunger’ like I do. Or the word ‘love’.’ – Billie HolidayBillie Holiday (1915-1959) aka Lady Day is one of the greatest jazz singers of all time.
Renowned for her uncanny and soulful ability to improvise melodically and sing every word of a song honestly, Billie Holiday’s pure, soothing voice spoke truthfully about the human condition, love, sorrow, and defiance. The person behind the music stands in stark contrast to the beautiful melodies, and Holiday spent a good deal of her life battling the demons of abuse and addiction.
Born to a poor family in Baltimore, Maryland, Billie Holiday’s real name was Eleanora Fagan. Her father was a guitarist and left her mother early in life.
Billie essentially grew up on the streets and she is infamous for having a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush. Her early life wasn’t easy, but she knew she could sing, so she moved to New York in her teens. She eventually ended up working in Harlem nightclubs as a singer and she trained herself to be an amazing vocal improviser, or someone who can make up melodies and musical lines on the spot without any planning.
Music, Drugs, and Dogs
Billie Holiday’s music and style inspired singers from Frank Sinatra to Barbra Streisand to Amy Winehouse. Holiday’s honest and natural improvisation skills have made her one of the greatest singers ever to perform and, in 2000, she was finally inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While Billie Holiday’s life was very tumultuous, she made a significant contribution to jazz music and left a mark that endures still today.
Although her childhood was anything but ideal, Billie Holiday managed to put her past behind her as she achieved great stardom as one of the world’s greatest improvisational singers. She connected with her audience through her amazing ability to make every word sound as though it was her own. Holiday gave voice to serious issues in the south by recording protest songs and achieved success in film and song in the film ‘New Orleans.’ She did not let her personal demons stop her from leaving her mark on jazz music. Her voice was truly one of a kind.