The artist known as Billie Holiday, and later nicknamed Lady Day was born as Eleanora Fagan, in 1915. Billies childhood was a sad one. Her parents were never married and her father,Clarence Holiday who played guitar with Fletcher Henderson abandoned Billie and her mother early on (geocites). At some point in her childhood, her mother moved to New York, leaving her to care for her relatives who, according to Holiday, mistreated her. She quit school after the fifth grade, was sexually assaulted at the age of ten and was jailed for prostitution in her early teens (artandculture). One would think Billies tragic childhood would leave her in poverty for the rest of her life, but luckily her amazing voice and intense lyrics would boost her to fame.
When Billie was eighteen she moved to New York to live with her mother. . She admired musicians like Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Holidays music is known to be a mixture of Armstrongs swing and Smiths sound (geocites). She began singing at a popular jazz club called Pods and Jerrys located in Harlem. It was there that she was discovered by John Hammond who set her up with three recording sessions with Benny Goodman. After that she performed in many clubs in New York and had a decent black following. Billie gained a wider audience when she performed with Count Basie in 1937 and Artie Shaw in 1938. This made her one of the first black singers to perform with a white orchestra (pbs.org). Being one of the first black singers to perform with a white orchestra was risky. This showed that like many other famous musicians who have disrupted an era Billie was not afraid to risk everything and go against the norm of society.
Billie had many hits like Fine and Mellow and Lover Man, but none of these songs shocked the world like Strange Fruit, a song about a lynching in the south. Southern trees bear a strange fruit/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swaying in the Southern breeze/ Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees (pbs.org). At the time these lyrics were shocking to America and Im sure made a lot of white southerners very angry. Billie Holiday is a true American hero for overcoming the racism that surrounded her and confronting the issue in a song for the whole nation to hear. She wasnt afraid to speak out about what she felt strongly about no matter what the consequences may be. Billie wouldnt let racism hold her back from her dreams. Billie may have been a drug attic, but who could blame her for her horrible childhood? She was obviously scarred from her youth. You can feel her pain and sorrow in her songs. Billie may not have the best voice in the world, but her lyrics possess such straight forward in your face honesty that you can feel deep down, and that is what American music is all about.
I downloaded Strange Fruit and the song has an incredibly eerie feeling to it. It is almost scary to listen to. I got this creepy feeling even before Billie started singing, just by the tone of the song, not to mention the powerful lyrics. I will definitely consider Billie Holiday for the topic of my final paper because I have respect for all of the hardships she overcame throughout her life.