Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday 1915-1959
Jazz Singer
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA

Eleanora Fagan (Billie Holiday), was born in Philadelphia, PA. She grew up in poverty in Baltimore. Billie's grandfather was one of several children of a slave and a white plantation owner. Her professional name was inspired by screen star Billie Dove.

Billie moved to New York City in the late 1920s. She started her career in Harlem jazz clubs. Soon she was performing with big band leaders like Benny Goodman and Count Basie. Nicknamed "Lady Day," Holiday became a popular musical legend and often used her tragic life as an inspiration for her music. She embarked on a successful solo career in 1940. Billie always appeared in a white gown with a white gardenia in her hair. Her voice could do things other people's voices couldn't; some said she even sang between notes. Her original works include God Bless the Child (about financial independence) and Strange Fruit (about the racial discrimination she experienced during her career).

Eventually, her voice began to show the effects of her heroin addiction, which destroyed her career. In 1959, Billie Holiday died while under arrest for possession of illegal drugs. The movie Lady Sings the Blues (1972) was based on her autobiography, which was published in 1956.

Related Resources

Web Resource
Jazz Kids

Black History Month  Return to the Encyclopedia
of Prominent African Americans

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