Billie Holiday Facts: Do You Know About This Legendary American Singer?

Mourbi Dutta
Mar 20, 2023 By Mourbi Dutta
Originally Published on Mar 02, 2023
Fact-checked by Shadiya Ahammad
Billie Holiday's wax statue

Billie Holiday is a legendary American jazz singer.

Billie Holiday was born in Philadelphia as Eleanora Fagan. There are contradictions in Holiday's birth accounts.

Holiday claimed in her memoirs to have been born in Baltimore. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, her biographer Donald Clarke noted her birthplace to be in Philadelphia general hospital.

Holiday was detained for drug possession in 1947. The singer received a jail term of one year and was transported to a federal treatment center in West Virginia.

Due to her jail sentence, Billie Holiday could not get a license to perform in lounges and clubs. However, the club proprietor, John Levy, would later become her partner and manager. He helped her get a gig at the New York club Ebony.

Facts About Billie Holiday's Family

Billie Holiday is one of the most popular singers who is loved by people worldwide. Find out more about the singer through this article at Kidadl.

  • Holiday's mother was Sadie Fagan. Her mother was a teenager at the time of her birth. Her father was thought to be Clarence Holiday, a jazz musician.
  • Billie Holiday often missed school when she was younger, which prompted her mother to take her to court for truancy.
  • Holiday was never able to play with dolls as other kids her age did. When she was six years old, she began working.
  • At the age of nine, Holiday was sent to an institution for troublesome girls. She reportedly quit school in the fifth grade and found work running errands.
  • Holiday relocated to Harlem, New York City. Holiday's mother was looking for better work while she stayed with her mother.

Facts About Billie Holiday's Musical Career

The iconic Jazz singer has greatly impacted the jazz music industry. In this section, we will learn more facts about her songs and her career.

  • Billie Holiday rose to fame for singing jazz standards written and composed by others. Two of them were 'Strange Fruit' and 'Easy Living'.
  • Producer John Hammond discovered Billie Holiday. She was the first girl singer John Hammond had seen who genuinely sang like an improvisational jazz genius.
  • Holiday recorded her first song in 1933. Hammond set up her first professional recording session with Benny Goodman.
  • When she teamed up with clarinetist, composer, and bandleader Artie Shaw in 1938, Billie Holiday became the first black woman to perform with a white orchestra.
  • Cafe Society was the first integrated nightclub in New York. In a 1939 performance, Holiday made her solo debut with 'Strange Fruit'.
  • Billie Holiday wed James Monroe in 1941. The couple divorced after a short marriage.
  • In front of a sold-out audience, Billie Holiday got three curtain calls during her 1948 Carnegie Hall debut performance.
  • The vocalist made an appearance in the Broadway show Holiday on Broadway after being released from jail in 1948.
  • Billie's studio album, titled 'Billie Holiday', was released in 1954 on Clef Records.
  • Holiday made her television debut in 1955. It was on 'The Tonight Show' with Steve Allen.
  • Lester Young, a saxophonist and musical partner in Count Basie's band, gave her the moniker 'Lady Day'. She adopted the name.
  • Billie Holiday wed Louis McKay in Mexico in 1957. In 1959, she had her last performance in New York City.
  • Billie Holiday was hospitalized in 1959 due to liver and cardiac issues. She passed away from issues with drugs and alcohol at the age 48.
  • More than 3,000 individuals attended the funeral of the 44-year-old. It took place in July 1959 at St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church.
  • Her memoirs were turned into the film 'Lady Sings The Blues' in 1972. Diana Ross portrayed Holiday in the movie.
  • In 1976, her song 'God Bless The Child' was recognized by the Grammy Hall of Fame. Years after her death, Billie Holiday received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.
  • In 1999, 'Strange Fruit' was named the song of the century by Time magazine. That year she was voted No. 6 on VH1's list of the '100 Greatest Women in Rock n' Roll'.
  • The Library of Congress selected 'Strange Fruit' as one of the 50 songs to be included in the National Recording Registry in 2002.
  • Holiday recorded 'Strange Fruit' for Commodore instead of Columbia. This is because the latter would not have approved of the album's subject matter.
  • Billie Holiday appeared in the ABC reality series 'The Comeback Story' in 1953.
  • Billie Holiday was a popular jazz singer who had a number of hits, including 'Summertime.' This was a huge hit in 1936. The song had been inspired by an opera called 'Porgy and Bess' a few years prior.

Fun Facts About Billie Holiday

Holiday continued to be a huge celebrity in jazz and even in popular music despite her personal issues. In this section, we will learn some fun facts about the jazz singer.

  • Five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald played the role of Billie Holiday. It was in the 2014's 'Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill' on Broadway.
  • In honor of movie actress Billie Dove, she assumed Billie Holiday as her stage name.
  • In the 1935 motion picture 'Symphony In Black', Billie Holiday co-starred with Duke Ellington.
  • To her great delight, she starred with her hero Louis Armstrong. It was in the 1947 movie 'New Orleans'.
  • Holiday never had children of her own. However, she had two godchildren. Bevan Dufty was the son of William Dufty. Additionally, vocalist Billie Lorraine Feather was the daughter of Leonard Feather.
  • Holiday was quite restricted in her range and never truly learned to read music. Her method was more natural, allowing for an emotional delivery than hitting certain notes. Long after Holiday's death, vocalists would continue to be influenced by this approach.
  • Billie Holiday influenced jazz and pop vocals greatly. She sang in a style reminiscent of jazz musicians' instrument playing. She was renowned for her very introspective and private singing style.
  • 'Billie's Blues', 'Everything Happens For The Best', 'Tell Me More (And Then Some)', 'Our Love Is Different', and 'Long Gone Blues' are just a few of the popular music songs that Holiday penned in the '30s.
  • One of her greatest and most popular singles was 'Strange Fruit'. Abel Meeropol, a teacher and social activist, wrote a poem that inspired the song's lyrics.
  • Holiday's quick adaptation to the melody of the song was ground-breaking at the time. It resulted in significant financial savings for the studio.
  • Even the most simple line was rendered spectacular by the emotional intensity of Holiday.
  • She co-wrote the book 'Lady Sings The Blues' with William Dufty in 1956. It was made into a movie starring Diana Ross in 1972.
  • Paula Jai Parker also played the role of Billie Holiday. It was in an episode named 'God Bless The Child' from the series 'Touched by an Angel' from 2000.
  • Holiday had a strong start to her music career with the success of 'Riffin' the Scotch'. This was her first significant single, and it sold 5,000 copies. In 1933, it was published as 'Benny Goodman & His Orchestra'.
  • Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra was the moniker used for the majority of Holiday's early hits. Holiday sang a few bars of music when she was a member of Wilson's band before giving way to another musician for a solo. Holiday was often accompanied by Wilson, one of the swing era's most important jazz pianists. Together, he and Holiday released 95 tracks.
  • Holiday started releasing records under her own name in July 1936. Under the moniker 'Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra', these tracks were released.
  • Most notable of all is the well-known jazz classic 'Summertime'. It had strong sales and debuted at number 12 on the pop charts of the day.
  • 1937 was Holiday's most commercially successful year. 16 of her songs were among the best-sellers.
  • On Billboard's list of the top songs of 1941, 'God Bless The Child' came in at number three.

Facts About Billie Holiday's Legacy

  • Popularly known as Lady Day, Billie Holiday has left behind an influential career. Let us learn some amazing facts about Billie Holiday's legacy.
  • Billie Holiday released 38 singles that reached the charts throughout her career. However, she never acquired the ability to read music.
  • Holiday is honored in the U2 song 'Angel Of Harlem'.
  • In Baltimore, a statue of Holiday was placed at the intersection of Lafayette and Pennsylvania Avenues. The 1,200-pound statue of Holiday shows her with her lips open, gardenias in her hair, and a strapless dress. Baltimore artist James Earl Reid crafted the towering bronze statue of Holiday.
  • Her statue in Baltimore is 8 ft 6 in (259 cm) tall.
  • The monument was first dedicated in 1985 by William Donald Schaefer, the mayor at the time.
  • Billie Holiday had a major musical influence on both Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell.
  • In September 1994, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in commemoration of Billie Holiday.
  • Throughout her career, Holiday faced racial prejudice. At one hotel, the management insisted that she use the freight elevator to avoid insulting the white customers.
  • Throughout her career, Billie Holiday performed at least 350 different songs.
  • Holiday won the Gold Award for Best Leading Female Vocalist from Esquire Magazine in 1944. She would later go on to win comparable prizes in succeeding years.
  • Her signature hairstyle would later include white gardenias. Singing with her head cocked back was another of her defining characteristics.
  • Lester Young and Billie Holiday produced songs like 'This Year's Kisses' and 'Mean To Me'. They are credited with producing some of the greatest jazz records ever.
  • Jonathan Schwartz is a radio personality for WNYC. He said that Holiday began to sing a song from the inside. This is what Frank Sinatra would do as well. This made that the song become a part of the singer's flesh and blood. They are his two best personal vocalists because of this.
  • In 2010, the song 'Crazy He Calls Me' was accepted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
  • Billie Holiday was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • In April 2015, the Apollo Theater honored Holiday by including her on its Walk of Fame.

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Written by Mourbi Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism

Mourbi Dutta picture

Mourbi DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism

With a strong educational background in Journalism and Mass Communication, Mourbi is a highly skilled content writer who graduated from Ashutosh College. With over two years of experience in content creation, she has honed her abilities in collecting and presenting information with meticulous attention to detail. Mourbi has played a pivotal role in assisting numerous companies and businesses in establishing their blogs. Her understanding of search engine optimization ensures that the content she creates not only engages readers but also maximizes online visibility. Beyond her writing prowess, Mourbi indulges in creative pursuits such as sketching and indulging in anime.

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Fact-checked by Shadiya Ahammad

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature, Master of Arts specializing in India and World Literature

Shadiya Ahammad picture

Shadiya AhammadBachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature, Master of Arts specializing in India and World Literature

A skilled writer and content creator with a postgraduate degree in English literature from the University of Calicut, Shadiya has also completed a Master of Arts in World Literature from Widya Dharma University and studied English Language and Literature at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. With her educational background and four years of experience in content writing, Shadiya has developed excellent research, communication, and writing skills, which she brings to her work every day. Her passion for language extends beyond her professional work, as she enjoys studying Arabic and Spanish in her free time.

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