From the Writer’s Almanac: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was born on this day in 1915, according to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.

Them that’s got shall get
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own

It’s hard to summarize Billie’s life in a few paragraphs; she saw some “up” periods, mixed in with a whole lot of “down.” Born to a broken home in Philadelphia, she and her mother were forced to make ends meet at times by working as prostitutes. It looks like she began singing professionally in 1929, becoming a regular at a club in 1932 (Benny Goodman saw her perform the year before), and performed a small role in a Duke Ellington musical production in 1935. She also started recording in 1935, and had performing contracts with the Count Basie and Artie Shaw bands between 1937-1938. Her big successes and fame began when she was given the song “Strange Fruit,” a straight-out commentary on black lynchings, and recorded it in 1939 — with resistance on her label’s part, and even some uncertainty on her own. The song became one of her most famous.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
Blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
for the rain to gather
for the wind to suck
for the sun to rot
for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Anyone who has heard a Billie Holiday side remembers that Voice. Billie was never trained as a singer; her voice wasn’t musical by any normal definition, thin in some places and with a weird, curious timbre. But “Lady Day” knew how to use it to brilliant effect, and wrung emotion out of out of the lyrics with almost every song she chose. Her style has inspired singers down to this day. When Diana Ross was tapped to portray Billie in Lady Sings the Blues, she studied up on the Holiday library, not to imitate Billie’s voice, but her style.

Sadly for Billie, she had to face many demons. Racial discrimination blocked her from career opportunities, or kept her to the usual routines such as having to take the service elevator to her hotel room instead of the main elevator, or not being able to eat or drink in the rooms she performed in. Worst, she developed an addiction to heroin, and she was busted several times for this — including in the hospital as she was dying of liver disease. She succumbed a month after this, in 1959; she was only 44 year old, and died with about $750 to her name.

Good morning heartache
Here we go again
Good morning heartache
You’re the one who knew me when
Might as well get used to you hanging around
Good morning heartache
Sit down


The details:

  • Skin:  Uzuri Imani Golden Smoky
  • Eyes:  Poetic Colors (dark wood)
  • Hair:  Sonatta Morales Alinda hair charcoal
  • Dress:  Sonatta Morales Peach
  • Shoes:  Donna Flora Rosea (black, jeweled heels)
  • Makeup:  elymode makeup – blue & gold; Amacci Eyelash Tattoo 3; Glamorize Dirty Babe lipstick (Charred chocolate)
  • Jewelry:  Eclectica Chevron suite (Pearl)

Photographed at my Secret (Public) Photo Studio.

Posted April 7, 2012 by Harper Ganesvoort in Arts, Music

Tagged with , , ,

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