Despite her appalling childhood, Billie Holiday made something out of herself. She touched people with her golden voice, and her moving words. They said that she “poured her broken heart into every word she sang”. Her voice caught the attention of many people. She turned peoples’ perspective on music upside down.
Billie didn’t have the most ideal childhood. She was born as Eleanora Fagan, on April 7th, 1915, in Baltimore Maryland. Both her parents were teenagers when they had her. Since her father didn’t stay in the picture for long, and her mother found it hard to fend for them both, Eleanora ended up spending most of her time as a child with her great-grandma.
As a teen, she was sent to a reformatory and spent four months in an adult prison.
Billie didn’t waste all her time as a teen though. When she was around fifteen, she tried getting hired as a singer in the local night spots.
It took her a while to find a job since she had no experience with music, but when she finally got hired, the customers loved her. She soon began getting many offers from other Harlem clubs to perform. While she was busy earning popularity, she was discovered by a record producer who wanted her. Billie made her first record in 1933, with Benny Goodman’s orchestra. The peak of her career was when she was booked for a week at the Apollo Theater. Soon, almost everyone knew the name Billie Holiday.
Her unique voice and her aesthetic appearance brought her wide attention. You would often see Billie wearing gardenias in her hair while she performed. A friend of hers, Lester Young, gave her the nickname, Lady Day. People were amazed by her sophisticated, and subtle style. In 1938, Billie Holiday joined Artie Shaw’s band, as a female soloist. This was around the time when discrimination was common everywhere. Being a part of Artie’s white band caused Billie to face much discrimination. Overwhelmed with all the racism she was facing, Billie came back to New York.
To express her strong feelings on the matter of discrimination, Billie wrote the song Strange Fruit. Many people were surprised to hear such a bold, song about racism written by a woman. This helped Ms. Holiday take a huge step forward in her career. She also wrote other famous songs such as God Bless the Child, and All of Me.
Although Lady Day had many professional successes, she dealt with personal issues too. Billie faced alcohol addiction, as well as drug abuse. She was even sent to jail with drug charges, which later prohibited her from performing at places that sold liquor. Though this was a setback, Billie didn’t let it get the most of her. She continued making recordings and performing at local theaters.
It was difficult for Billie to control her addiction. This affected her career. Her voice began to weaken, which made it harder for her to take a stand. In 1956, three years before she passed away, Billie wrote her autobiography Lady Sing the Blues. In it, she described her struggles as a child and as an adult. Sadly, in 1959, Lady Day passed away, at the age of only forty-four. Her addiction got the best of her, and she died of congestive heart failure.
During her lifetime, Billie Holiday touched hearts with her powerful voice, and moved souls with her deep words. Though her life was short, she made the most of it, and rose to the top of her career.