Following on from yesterday with my prelude to the wonderful Billie Holiday, I thought I would write a more in-depth post about her as a homage to the music and the magic.
Now, I must confess, I didn’t know a huge amount about Billie herself (until today), but her music however, I listen to very frequently as it seems to work for any occasion (within reason…) Perhaps a little embarrassingly, I first heard about Billie Holiday at the age of 16, upon the release of ‘The Notebook’, starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. Now, I know for a fact there is a lot wrong with this film, but also to its credit – there is also a lot right with it too and personally I think it does a pretty good job of portraying life and love in 1940s America.
Anyway, Billie’s ‘I’ll be Seeing You’, appears in the film (see yesterdays post) and upon this introduction I haven’t ever really looked back. Living in London, a whole array of jazz and blues clubs are at my immediate disposal and it is partly due to artists such as Billie Holiday that this sort of music lives on with such vitality today.
Billie Holiday herself had a horrendously tragic life and in my opinion her background was just about as bad as it is possible to be. Born in 1915, the young singer, known then as Eleanora Fagan, grew up without the stability of a happy home life, with disputes about her paternity and a juvenile conviction for truancy at school occurring before she was ten years old. By the age of 11, Billie had dropped out of school completely and suffered yet again at the hands of a neighbour who was accused of raping her age 12. By the age of 14, she was working alongside her mother as a prostitute in Harlem New York and was later arrested and sent to prison before her release a year later.
Thankfully Billie’s career as a singer in local nightclubs got her noticed once and for all and she soon rose the ranks with her powerful, emotive sound. As her reputation and chart success grew, sadly so did Billie’s problems with narcotics, drinking and debt and unfortunately abusive, destructive relationships inevitably followed. After years of success tinged with sadness, Billie died in 1950 age just 44. She was reported to have a mere 70 cents in her bank account at the time.
Despite trouble, heartache and sorrow, Billie’s voice and in turn her legacy lives on today. Some of her most successful records include: “Riffin’ the Scotch”, “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” and “Summertime” earning her accolades in the Rock n’ Roll and Jazz halls of fame amongst respect and revere amongst artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.
Below is the video to ‘Summertime’ – the jazz classic. Overplayed in some people’s opinion, I believe Billie’s version to be one of the best. I urge you to listen to it with a clear head and I almost guarantee it’s beauty will have no trouble at all shining through.