Billie Holiday is one of the greatest jazz-blues singers of all time, she is also known as Lady Day. Born Eleanor Fagan in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, she spent an extremely poor childhood in Baltimore. Both her parents were in their early teens when she was born (her mother was 13). Her father, Clarence Holiday, left when she was a baby. Billie was also blamed for the death of her grandmother when she was six years old. Billie’s education ended at the fifth grade when her mother moved them to New York in l927. Other relatives sporadically looked out for Billie, but she earned much of her own living from age ten, when among other employment, she ran errands for a local brothel owner who, in return, allowed her to listen to jazz records.
In l931, she was a teenager working to support her sickly mother by dancing in a Harlem nightclub. She talked the manager into singing a few songs with the house band. The response of the audience to her unique voice was instantaneous. From then on, Billie Holiday attracted followers as she moved from club to club. A recording session in 1935 brought her to the public attention. Thereafter she was a vocalist with various orchestras including those of Count Basie and Artie Shaw. Her debut at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater in 1935 established her reputation. She made her first starring record in 1936.
In 1941 Billie married Johnie Monroe and became an opium user. She then divorced and married trumpeter Joe Guy and became addicted to heroin. Despite her addiction she sang well and earned $1,000 a week. In 1946 she gave a triumphant concert at Town Hall and appeared in the film “New Orleans”. In 1947 Billie was arrested on a drug charge and served eight months in prison.


Yet her talent was so significant that apon her release her admirers packed Carnogie Hall
to hear her sing at a special concert. Her felony status meant, however, that she could not be licensed to perform in New York and was limited to clubs in lesser locations.
At age 36 she married a third time to Louis McKay who was also abusive. In 1954 Billie successfully toured Europe but was arrested again in 1956 and entered a clinic. Unfortunately Billie’s recovery was temporary. She died an untimely death at the age of 44 on July 17, 1959.
Said by some to be the most important female jazz artist of all time, Billie Holiday won the Esquire Jazz Critics Poll in 1944 and was honored with the Metronome Vocalist of the Year Award in 1946.