Holiday, Billie (1915–1959)

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Billie Holiday (1915–1959)

Billie Holiday was one of the greatest female jazz vocalists of the twentieth century. Although her life was often rough (including a troubled childhood and problems with drugs as an adult), her music was hauntingly beautiful. Holiday had a distinctive style of singing, phrasing her notes in odd ways unlike any other singers.

Holiday began her career in the 1930s, often singing with bandleader Teddy Wilson (1912–1986). Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, she recorded hundreds of songs with various musicians, with small groups and large orchestras. She gave every song she recorded her distinctive touch, and a number of songs are intimately associated with her, including "My Man," "The Man I Love," and "God Bless the Child." In the late 1950s, her hard living, including trouble with alcohol and drugs, led to the decline of her voice, her career, and ultimately her early death in 1959. However, she remains one of the most influential singers in all of American popular music.

—Timothy Berg

For More Information

Chilton, John. Billie's Blues: The True Story of the Immortal Billie Holiday. London: Quartet Books, 1975.

Davis, Angela. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. New York: Pantheon, 1998.

De Veaux, Alexis. Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.

Estate of Billie Holiday. The Official Site of Billie Holiday. (accessed February 11, 2002).

Hirshey, Gerri. "Mothers of Invention." Rolling Stone (November 13, 1997): pp. 44–49.

Holiday, Billie, with William Dufty. Lady Sings the Blues. New York: Doubleday, 1956.