Born in 1915, in Baltimore, Maryland, Holiday moved to New York in 1928. Influenced by such Jazz greats as Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, she began singing in a Harlem nightclub at 15. “The moment you heard that voice you knew it was Billie Holiday.” As Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie noted, Holiday’s singing style definitely was unique. Holiday modestly explained her delivery, saying, “What comes out is what I feel.” And what she felt touched her audiences as well. Holiday’s first audition was driven by hunger. Down and out, she had walked for 12 blocks along New York’s Seventh Avenue looking for work. Finally, she stumbled upon the Log Cabin Club where manager Jerry Preston gave her an opportunity to perform. After singing her second song, she recalled the reactions of the lounge patrons, “You should have seen those people — all of them started crying.” Three years later Holiday made her first recording. In 1935 her career began to soar as she toured with famed band leaders Count Basie and Artie Shaw. Nicknamed “Lady Day,” she became a solo attraction in 1940. However after an arrest for a narcotics violation in 1947, her career declined. Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, appeared in 1956, three years before her death. In 1972, a film version of her life story paid tribute to the soft-spoken woman who often sported a gardenia in her hair.
Image and Text © Wind River Studios