"After Billie Holiday’s funeral service, there was such a quietness over these musicians, such a multitude of them there, and we just stood around like in awe and we filed out of the church and stood on the corners for a few minutes until everybody got out and we just quietly just stepped away into the crowd. It was not the usual thing of musicians going to a bar…having a nice drink or a type of New Orleans festivity. It was just dead quiet and sadness."
RIP Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 - July 17, 1959)
Billie Holiday photographed by William P. Gottlieb for Down Beat Magazine, c. 1946
Billie Holiday at Paris Orly Airport, 1958 (via)
Outtake of Billie Holiday posing for the cover of her penultimate album Lady in Satin, c. 1958
Billie Holiday c. 1950s
75 years ago, on this date, Billie Holiday recorded a song that Time Magazine would call song of the century: Strange Fruit, a song written about a lynching in the South.
Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939. She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation but, because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing the piece making it a regular part of her live performances. Because of the poignancy of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday’s face; and there would be no encore. During the musical introduction, Holiday would stand with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer.
"The blues to me is like being very sad, very sick, going to church, being very happy. There’s two kinds of blues: there’s happy blues and then sad blues. I don’t think I’ve ever sang the same way twice, I don’t think I’ve ever sang the same tempo. One night’s a little bit slower, the next night’s a little bit brighter, depends on how I feel. I don’t know, the blues is sort of mixed up thing, you just have to feel it. Everything I do sing is part of my life."
Happy 99th birthday to one of the greatest voices of the 20th century:
Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 - July 17, 1959)
Billie Holiday at record producer Harry Lim’s jam session, photographed by Life photographer Charles Peterson, c. 1939
Other musicians in attendance include Duke Ellington, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Johnny Hodgers, J.C. Higginbotham, Hot Lips Page and Chu Berry among others.
Billie Holiday at the Newport Jazz Festival, c. 1957
Original Caption: Lady Day slaying your faves, as usual, in an appearance at the L’Olympia in Paris, c. 1958
The Queens, c. 1950
"Once, when we were playing at the Apollo, Holiday was working a block away at the Harlem Opera House. Some of us went over between shows to catch her, and afterwards we went backstage. I did something then, and I still don’t know if it was the right thing to do - I asked her for her autograph."
Billie Holiday “Strange Fruit" London; 1959
CultureMUSIC: Billie Holiday
As you can see from the avatar, Lady Day is a big favorite. These recently discovered photos from a French magazine are some of the most gorgeous color shots of her that I’ve seen. So ridiculously talented and so beautiful.
Billie Holiday backstage at Carnegie Hall, c. 1954
“I spent only one night photographing Billie Holiday,” he [Carl Van Vechten] wrote, “but it was the whole of one night and it seemed like a whole career.” The session began badly. Gerry Major had arranged the meeting, and had asked Holiday to wear a gown for the sitting. Holiday, however, arrived “at the appointed hour in a plain gray suit and facial expression equally depressing.” In spite of his disappointment, Van Vechten began photographing Holiday. It wasn’t going well and he was considering giving up when he thought to show Holiday his photographs of Bessie Smith. The photographs brought Holiday to tears; she explained that Smith had been an inspiration to her in the early days of her career. Their discussion of Smith softened the mood, and Holiday agreed to wearing a drape fashioned to look like an evening dress instead of her suit for some of the photographs.
At midnight, Holiday announced that she had to go home; she promised to come back shortly. Van Vechten, afraid she might go in search of drugs, sent his assistant Saul Mauriber to Harlem with her to insure her return. Holiday and Mauriber reappeared with Mister, Holiday’s boxer. She was in a different mood entirely, more lively and relaxed. Van Vechten continued to photograph her for some time.
Afterward, “she related in great detail the sad, bittersweet story of her tempestuous life.” Van Vechten’s wife Fania soon joined the group, and “in a short time Fania, like the rest of us, was in tears, and suddenly, also like the rest of us, found herself attached to Billie as if she had known her intimately for years.” Holiday didn’t leave the apartment until shortly before dawn. “We never saw her again,” Van Vechten wrote, “but not one of us will ever forget her.”
Portraits of the Artists, Esquire Magazine (1962)
Billie Holiday photographed by Carl Van Vechten, c. March 1949