Billie Holiday (born: Elinore Harris, April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and song writer. She earned the nickname “Lady Day” from her friend and musical partner Lester Young, and was regarded for the way she manipulated musical phrasing and tempo as well as her personal and intimate singing style.
She lived a difficult childhood that involved her mother being frequently absent, truancy from school, getting caught up in juvenile court, and perhaps most egregiously working as a prostitute in Harlem, NYC. It was in the late 1920s that Elinore began singing songs that she had learned in the brothel. It was in late 1929, after being released from a workhouse that she started using the name Billie Holiday and singing with a neighbor, tenor sax player Kenneth Hollan at various New York clubs. John Hammond discovered her in 1933 while she was singing as a replacement for Monette Moore, and he soon introduced her to Benny Goodman, with whom she made her recording debut singing “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch.”
Soon after in 1935 she collaborated with pianist Teddy Wilson, producing “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown To You”, which helped to establish Holiday as a major vocalist. She began recording under her own name a year later, producing a series of extraordinary performances with groups comprising the swing era’s finest musicians. John Hammond signed the pair onto Brunswick Records to record swinging versions of current pop tunes for the jukeboxes that were becoming popular. Holiday recorded for Commodore Records, starting with a recording of “Strange Fruit,” a song whose subject matter — a lynching — was considered too sensitive for Brunswick. Her final recording days were with Decca, where she recorded the hit “Lover Man.”
I’ll admit that one of the first reasons I started beefing up my Billie Holiday collection was for DJing wedding receptions, where her gentle, fragile and rhythmic vocals and matching backing bands often help set a romantic mood. I was lucky to discover some sweetly swinging tunes, that I love to DJ at lindy hop dances:
- Miss Brown To You
- Nice Work if You Can Get It
- Blue Moon