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Profile of Billie Holiday



April 7, 1915; her parents were Clarence and Sadie.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


July 17, 1959 in New York, New York, USA.

Also Known As:

Her real name was Eleanora Fagan; her nickname "Lady Day" was given to her by trumpeter Lester Young. She was one of the foremost blues singers of her time known for her soulful voice that brought life and emotion to her songs. The white gardenias she wore on her hair became her trademark.


As a youngster, Holiday listened to songs by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong to which she would sing along. She didn't have any formal vocal training, nevertheless she would soon become one of the greatest blues singers of her time.

Early Career:

She began her early career singing in Harlem nightclubs adopting the stage name Billie Holiday. When she was 18, she was discovered by John Hammond while she was singing at a Harlem club called Monette. Hammond arranged for her to record her first song with Benny Goodman. She had her first performance at the Apollo Theatre in 1934. She also made recordings with pianist Teddy Wilson. One of the members of Wilson's studio band was Lester Young, the man who gave Holiday her nickname.

Rise to Fame:

By 1935 Holiday has recorded 4 songs, including "Miss Brown to You" and "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," that eventually became hits. In 1937 she joined Count Basie's band and the following year was performing with Artie Shaw. By 1939 she was singing at Greenwich Village's Cafe Society and recorded other hits such as "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit" which was recorded under the Commodore label.

Later Years:

Although she first signed with Columbia records during the 1930s, Holiday would move to Verve in the 1950s. Under Verve she made around 100 recordings but due to personal struggles which involved drugs and alcohol, her voice was severely affected. However, she continued to go on tours and do recordings. Her final performance was on June 1959 in New York.

Music Sample:

Listen to Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" from Youtube.

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