Billie Holiday — born Eleonora Fagan in Philadelphia, PA on April 7, 1915, a jazz vocalist & songwriter. She was considered one of the best jazz vocalists of all time. Nicknamed “Lady Day” by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing. She had a thriving career as a jazz signer for many years before she lost her battle with substance abuse.
In her difficult early life, she found solace in music. She followed her mother who had moved to NYC in the late 1920s and worked in a prostitution house in Harlem. Around 1930, Holiday began singing in local clubs and renamed herself “Billie” after film star Billie Dove. She was discovered by producer John Hammond, at the age of 18. Although her hard living was taking a toll on her voice, she continued to tour and record in the 1950s. Her final performance was in NYC on May 25, 1959. On July 17, 1959, Holiday died from alcohol and drug related complications.
- Holiday and her mother were arrested for prostitution in May 1929. She was jailed for 5 months.
- In New York City, she started singing in Harlem nightclubs and took the name Billie.
- Her big chance came in a recording session in 1935 and thereafter performed as vocalist with various big bands such as those of Count Basie and Artie Shaw.
- Holiday made many recordings with saxophonist Lester Young and with pianist Teddy Wilson.
- It was Lester Young who nicknamed her Lady Day.
- Holiday’s notable songs in the 1930s include “These Foolish Things” (1936), “He’s Funny That Way” (1937), “Them There Eyes” (1939) and “Strange Fruit” (1939)
- She was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in 2000.