Women’s History Month: Lady Sings the Blues

Billie Holiday Stamp

“God Bless the Child,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “My Man,” “Lover Man.”   The distinctive and highly recognizable voice known for singing these songs is that of Billie Holiday.

Billie Holiday is among the most famous jazz singers.  Born Eleanora Fagan, she changed her name to Billie Holiday because of her admiration for a film star, “Billie Dove.”  She is also known as “Lady Day,” so named by saxophonist Lester Young.

Billie grew up in Baltimore, which was rich in jazz talent during the 1920s.  As a teenager, she sang with Bessie Smith and Louie Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs.  At age 18 she was spotted by music producer and A&R man John Hammond, and cut her first record as part of a studio group led by Bennie Goodman.  And so began her prolific career.

Billie was born April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia and died an untimely death 44 years later on July 17, 1959 in New York City.  She is buried in Bronx County, NY.  A statue of Billie stands at the corner of Lafayette and Pennsylvania Avenues in Baltimore.

Other tributes to Billie Holiday include:

  • The 1972 film “Lady Sings the Blues” in which Diana Ross stars as Billie Holiday
  • The U2 Billie Holiday tribute song “Angel of Harlem” released in 1988
  • A 1994 United States Postal Service sponsored stamp honoring Billie Holiday
  • Billie Holiday’s induction in 2000 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 15th induction dinner with Diana Ross as her presenter

Check out some of Billie Holiday’s music on our “Women in Music” playlist.

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