Music: Billie Holiday

With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.

Frank Sinatra, interview in "Ebony", 1958.

Nicknamed "Lady Day", Billie Holiday (1915-1959) was a popular jazz singer. Her early life was tragic and her drug abuse cut her life short, but she remains famous for her powerful yet vulnerable voice, her persona, and her fearless advocacy of civil rights with such songs as the anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit."

Notable for "Strange Fruit" (which took considerable balls considering this was way before the Civil Rights Movement), "Summertime" and "Easy Living".

Albums by her with their own page on TV Tropes'


Tropes found in Billie Holiday's life and works:

  • Berserk Button: Racism seemed to be one.
  • Bi the Way: Had flings with both men and women.
  • Broken Bird: Where to begin?
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Her legend has been accelerated by her early death.
  • Flower in Her Hair: Signature look. Many female singers since have copied it in order to pay tribute to her.
  • Follow the Leader: The first female singer to become world famous by singing melancholical songs about unfaithful men, alcohol, drugs and racism. Still copied to this day.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Many times, in custody and out. Billie had a heroin habit that at its worse required her to cook up her fix in an old tuna fish can. Most junkies use a teaspoon. Even when in the agonies of withdrawal she still rarely missed a show. Cirrhosis from alcoholism is what eventually killed her.
  • Jazz: She is still the most iconic female jazz singer of all time.
  • The Lad-ette: Known for her love of drinking, brawling, and gambling.
  • Lipstick Mark: In "Don't Explain" she tells her man to "skip that lipstick".
  • Mondegreen: "God Bless The Child"'s lines "Mama may have, Papa may have" could be heard as "Mama Mayhem, Papa Mayhem".
  • Posthumous Collaboration: "God Bless The Child" was recorded again after her death in a version with Tony Bennett.
  • Protest Song: "Strange Fruit" was a early example and was daring for its time. It addressed the lynching of black people in the South, by comparing people hanging from trees with "strange fruit".
  • Rape as Backstory: By a neighbor at 10 years old.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Of a boy Billie occasionally babysat. He was a nephew of the man who ran her first record company, Commodore Records, and his name also happened to be Billy. He was a funny kid who grew up to be one Billy Crystal (of When Harry Met Sally fame).
  • Romanticized Abuse: "Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do" where she defiantly declares how happy she is with her abusive husband (yes, it was Truth in Television)
  • Slow Clap: When she first sang "Strange Fruit," the result was silence... then a Slow Clap.
  • Tough Act to Follow: Invoked. "Strange Fruit" was contractually required to be the last song Billie Holiday would ever perform in a night - no encores. Waiters would not serve patrons, and the only light would be a spotlight on Lady Day's face.

Billie Holiday in popular culture
  • Her rendition of "Yesterdays" is used as an atmospheric piece in Fritz the Cat (1972) before Fritz and his black friend go off to visit a pimp and a prostitute..
  • Diana Ross performed Holiday in the Biopic "Lady Sings The Blues" (1972).
  • "Angel Of Harlem" by U2 from Rattle And Hum is a homage to her.
  • "My Only Friend" by The Magnetic Fields is a tribute to her.
  • "Strange Fruit" is used in a story of Blacksad.
  • Bomb Girls provides a shout-out to Billie Holiday and Cary Grant.
  • At the start of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days Sophie and her room-mate Gisela sing along to a recording of Holiday's "Sugar".
  • Alison Moyet covered "That Ole Devil Called Love" in 1985.
  • The Simpsons: In "Round Springfield" the ghost of Bleeding Gums Murphy tells Lisa he has to leave: "I got a date with Billie Holiday".
  • "Same Old Story" is heard over the end credits of Bad Timing (1980).