If the name Eleanora Fagan does not ring a bell, perhaps you are more familiar with her stage name, Billie Holiday, who came to our Earth on April 7, 1915 and made one of the most indelible marks on jazz as anyone who has ever sung any standard.
Holiday didn’t just work with the giants, she was a giant: despite a famously small voice with limited range, her extraordinary gifts of styling and improvisation have made her an icon of music for all time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Tragically, her voice and life were cut short due to a lifetime of turbulence, addiction, trafficking, and violence—not to mention the pain of being a strong-willed woman in the man’s world of jazz at a time when Black musicians were revered onstage yet banned from the town’s restaurants and hotels. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
You can listen to four versions of the same Holiday song and each one will be different, yet exactly right. But be warned, once you start listening to Lady Day, you may find your playlist stuck on repeat for weeks at a time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
One example is her signature song, “Strange Fruit”: read along the lyrics while listening for a harrowing history “testimony” about lynching in the first half of 20th-century America.