Thursday, January 24, 2019

Paula Hackett writes

Billie Holiday
(a lullaby)

Sometimes when nature is quiet
and the moon shines just where you are,
I can hear you singing the spirit world to rest.
I remember as a child, your voice would  
wrap me in cotton
as you felt the blows for all of us.
Born into a country that tried to
make your voice illegal,
poise and elegance was your response.
And tonight, like so many
nights, as I wait for morning,
I know I can count on
the voice of Billie Holiday.
Image result for billie holiday paintings
Billy Holiday and Lester Young Band -- Millis

1 comment:

  1. Eleanora Fagan was the illegitimate daughter of jazz banjo and rhythm guitar player Clarence Holiday. He was only 16 when she was born, and he rarely spent time with her. When she was 9 she was sent to House of the Good Shepherd reform school for truancy, and again 2 years later under protective custody as a witness against an attempted rape by a neighbor. A drop-out at 11, she got a job running errands in a brothel, and before she was 13 she was a $5 whore. After she and her mother were arrested for prostitution she began singing in nightclubs and renamed herself Billie Holiday (after popular movie actress Billie Dove and her father). In 1933, when she was 17, she was discovered by John Hammond, and she released her 1st record when she was 18 -- it sold 5,000 copies. Despite her limited range and lack of formal musical education, she adapted jazz instrumental styles and pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. Hammond paired her with another of his discoveries, pianist Teddy Wilson, and they adopted an improvisational style that made her a star. She also sang with tenor saxophonist Lester Young, who had boarded at her mother's house; according to Young said, "It sound like two of the same voices ... or the same mind, or something like that." She called him "Prez" (after president Franklin D. Roosevelt) and he dubbed her "Lady Day." The 3 musicians performed without arrangements to reduce recording costs and were paid a flat rate rather than royalties. After a short stint with Count Basie she worked with Artie Shaw, becoming one of the 1st African-American singers to work with a white band. In 1939 she recorded "Strange Fruit," a song about lynching, which became her biggest hit (though many of her recordings are regarded as classics). By the time she was 29 she was popular enough to give solo concerts rather than being a vocalist in a band (rare for jazz singers at the time). In 1947 she was jailed for possession of narcotics, and her New York City Cabaret Card was revoked as a result, so she was prohibited from working anywhere in the city where alcohol was served. In 1957 she married a Mafia enforcer. On the last day of May 1959 she was taken to the hospital to get treated for heart disease and cirrhosis, but was arrested there and handcuffed to her bed. She died on 17 July, at 44. She had 70 cents in her bank account. According to the sleeve notes on a 1961 album, her death, "like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her. The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman ... was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning."


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