Billie Holiday

bs-ae-billie-holiday-centennial-20150328Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 and went on to be a pioneer for the jazz and pop music genres. Her father left her when she was very young and therefore had to live with her mother who lived a hard work-filled life. When she was a teenager, she and her mother moved to Harlem. Here, Holiday’s mother became a prostitute and—within a matter of days—Billie also became one. After being caught, they were sent to prison for a short while. Once released, Holiday began to sing at various nightclubs in Harlem. Her first records debuted in 1933 when she was 18, titled “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch” selling 300 and 5,000 copies respectively. She then met Teddy Wilson and began recording with him—they were given much freedom and ability to improvise, which is something Holiday is notable for. Lester Young, a saxophonist, also accompanied them, and together they created many jazz hits. Her earliest most notable hit was “Strange Fruit”, which was said to be the equivalent of a top 20 hit in the 30s. She went on to record successus such as “God bless the Child” which reached 25 in 1941. By 1947, she reached her commercial peak—also the year that she was arrested for possession of narcotics in New York. By the 50s, her drug abuse and drinking caused her health troubles, and finally passed away on July 17, 1959. Her legacy lives on through her unique vocal style, whereas she didn’t have a large range necessarily but was in fact able to portray her emotions and feelings through her voice which was iconic for the time.