Holiday, Billie

orig. Eleanora Fagan

born April 7, 1915, Baltimore, Md., U.S.
died July 17, 1959, New York, N.Y.

U.S. jazz singer.

She was "discovered" while she was singing in a Harlem nightclub in 1933. Recordings with Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington led to a series of outstanding small-group records (1935–42) featuring musicians such as Lester Young (who gave her the sobriquet Lady Day) and Teddy Wilson. Exposure with the big bands of Count Basie (1937) and Artie Shaw (1938) brought her greater public attention; for the rest of her life she would remain one of the best known of jazz singers. Among the songs identified with her were "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child." Personal crises and drug and alcohol addiction plagued her career, and she was incarcerated in 1947 on narcotics charges. Her voice could reveal a sweet, often sensual expressiveness or disturbing bitterness in the service of a lyric: her clear projection of emotion represents a landmark of personal expression.

Billie Holiday, 1958.

Reprinted with permission of Down Beat magazine

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▪ American jazz singer
birth name  Elinore Harris,  byname  Lady Day 
born April 7, 1915, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.
died July 17, 1959, New York City, N.Y.
 American jazz singer, one of the greatest from the 1930s to the '50s.

      Eleanora (her preferred spelling) Harris was the daughter of Clarence Holiday, a professional musician who for a time played guitar with the Fletcher Henderson (Henderson, Fletcher) band. She and her mother used her maternal grandfather's surname, Fagan, for a time; then in 1920 her mother married a man surnamed Gough, and both she and Eleanora adopted his name. It is probable that in neither case did her mother have Eleanora's name legally changed. The singer later adopted her natural father's last name and took the name Billie from a favourite movie actress, Billie Dove. In 1928 she moved with her mother from Baltimore, Md. (where she had spent her childhood), to New York City, and after three years of subsisting by various means, she found a job singing in a Harlem nightclub. She had had no formal musical training, but, with an instinctive sense of musical structure and with a wealth of experience gathered at the root level of jazz and blues, she developed a singing style that was deeply moving and individual.

      In 1933 Holiday made her first recordings, with Benny Goodman (Goodman, Benny) and others. Two years later a series of recordings with Teddy Wilson and members of Count Basie (Basie, Count)'s band brought her wider recognition and launched her career as the leading jazz singer of her time. She toured with Basie and with Artie Shaw (Shaw, Artie) in 1937 and 1938 and in the latter year opened at the plush Café Society in New York City. About 1940 she began to perform exclusively in cabarets and in concert. Her recordings between 1936 and 1942 marked her peak years. During that period she was often associated with saxophonist Lester Young (Young, Lester), who gave her the nickname “Lady Day.”

      In 1947 Holiday was arrested for a narcotics violation and spent a year in a rehabilitation centre. No longer able to obtain a cabaret license to work in New York City, Holiday nonetheless packed New York's Carnegie Hall 10 days after her release. She continued to perform in concert and in clubs outside of New York City, and she made several tours during her later years. Her constant struggle with heroin addiction ravaged her voice, although not her technique.

      Holiday's dramatic intensity rendered the most banal lyric profound. Among the songs identified with her were "Strange Fruit," "Fine and Mellow," "The Man I Love," "Billie's Blues," "God Bless the Child," and "I Wished on the Moon." The vintage years of Holiday's professional and private liaison with Young were marked by some of the best recordings of the interplay between a vocal line and an instrumental obbligato. In 1956 she wrote an autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (with William Dufty), that was made into a motion picture in 1972.

Additional Reading
Biographies include John Chilton, Billie's Blues (1975); Robert G. O'Meally, Lady Day (1991); Donald Clarke, Wishing on the Moon (1994); and Stuart Nicholson, Billie Holiday (1995).

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Holiday, Billie —  (1915–1959) American singer; born Eleanora Fagan Holiday …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Holiday, Billie — orig. Eleanora Fagan (7 abr. 1915, Baltimore, Md., EE.UU.–17 jul. 1959, Nueva York, N.Y.). Cantante de jazz estadounidense. Fue descubierta en 1933 mientras cantaba en un club nocturno de Harlem. De las grabaciones con Benny Goodman y Duke… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Holiday, Billie — pseud. di Fagan Gough, Eleanora …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • Billie Holiday — Foto tomada por Carl van Vechten en 1949 Datos generales Nacimiento 7 de abril de 1915 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Billie Holiday — Billie Holiday, 1947 Foto: William Gottlieb Billie Holiday (* 7. April 1915 in Philadelphia[1]; † 17. Juli 1959 in New York; geboren als Elinore Harris …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • HOLIDAY (B.) — HOLIDAY BILLIE (1915 1959) La chanteuse Billie Holiday débute à Harlem vers 1930. De 1935 à 1939, elle enregistre au sein de petites formations souvent dirigées par le pianiste Teddy Wilson, et travaille parallèlement avec l’orchestre de Count… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Billie Holiday — [Billie Holiday] (1915–59) a US singer of ↑jazz and the ↑blues whose popular name was ‘Lady Day’. She recorded her first record in 1933 with Benny Goodman, and later sang with ‘Count’ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Billie Holiday — Infobox musical artist Name = Billie Holiday Img capt = Billie Holiday in 1949 photograph by Carl Van Vechten Img size = Landscape = Background = solo singer Birth name = Eleanora Fagan Alias = Lady Day Born = birth date|1915|4|7|mf=y… …   Wikipedia

  • Billie Holiday — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Fagan. Billie Holiday Portrait …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Billie — /bil ee/, n. 1. a male given name, form of William. 2. a female given name. * * * (as used in expressions) Holiday Billie King Billie Jean Billie Jean Moffitt * * * …   Universalium

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