Black History Month: Billie Holiday

Stephon Berry

Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915. Holiday’s place of birth is a commonly disputed aspect of her life – some sources say Baltimore, and others cite Philadelphia. A fact not often disputed is that Holiday was one of the most influential idols of her time, bearing a timeless voice, and is still to this day a leading source of inspiration for modern jazz and pop musicians alike. The song often cited as the ship that rocketed her to fame, “Strange Fruit,” was also one of the most controversial songs of her career. It’s considered by some sources to be the first song recorded in the U.S. with obviously anti-racist sentiments.

Opposition to the song gained “Lady Day” her household-name status and allowed her to introduce and further popularize a form of music that was at the time often reserved for blacks. It was her unique diction and soulful tone, with the ability to depict even the most intangible of feelings that won her the chart topping positions that were often reserved for whites.

In the end, Billie’s demons were too much for her and her sporadic struggle with substance abuse which had earned her many arrests, culminated in her untimely death at the age of 44. Though her life was riddled with hardships – an absent father, a negligent mother, familial abuse, being raped, subsequent punishment for having been “the seductress” in the rape, and living in a brothel, her legacy remains a positive and inspiring string of accolades and anecdotes that still influence artists and celebrities today.


All photos legally used by/from AP images
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