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Music / Billie Holiday

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"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, 1958 interview in Ebony magazine

Eleanora Fagan (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), known professionally as Billie Holiday and nicknamed "Lady Day", was a popular American jazz singer. Her early life was tragic and drug abuse led her to an untimely death at age 44, but Holiday continues to be acclaimed for her powerful yet vulnerable voice, her persona, and her fearless advocacy for civil rights in such songs as the anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit" (which took her considerable courage to record, considering as how it predated the Civil Rights Movement by two decades). She was also openly bisexual and had flings with both men and women.

She's also notable for her definitive performances of such standards as "Summertime" and "Easy Living".

Albums by her with their own page on TV Tropes:

Tropes found in Billie Holiday's life and works:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Both her fellow singers and fans knew her as "Lady Day", a name which she is synonymous with to this day.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: She had a rather traumatic upbringing to say the least (especially as a black girl in America in the 1910's) and her life in general was very troubled. Her parents were unmarried and young (bad for the early 20th Century), her father died of an illness which doctors refused to treat due to his race and she was molested by a neighbor when she was nine years old, which led her to spending time in foster homes and she developed a drug and alcohol problem as she grew older. Many have said they can still hear such pain in her voice even as she sings, which may be one of the reasons why her music is so powerful (in fact she cites "Strange Fruit" as personal because it makes her think of her father).
  • Death Song: Two of her most famous recordings, "Strange Fruit" and "Gloomy Sunday", are both related to death. The former is about the lynchings that occurred frequently in the United States at the time, while the other is a song about contemplating suicide (and maybe doing it). Both are undeniably haunting and leave quite the impression.
  • Lipstick Mark: In "Don't Explain" she tells her man to "skip that lipstick".
  • 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".
  • 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)
  • Signature Headgear: The white flowers in her hair is her signature look. Many female singers since have copied her style in order to pay tribute to her.
  • 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:

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    On soundtracks 
  • 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.
  • "Strange Fruit" is used in a story of Blacksad.
  • At the start of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days Sophie and her room-mate Gisela sing along to a recording of Holiday's "Sugar".
  • "Same Old Story" is heard over the end credits of Bad Timing (1980).

    Screen and stage portrayals 
  • Diana Ross performed Holiday in the Biopic Lady Sings the Blues (1972).
  • Audra McDonald performed Holiday in the Broadway performance (2015) and HBO airing of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill (2016).
  • Andra Day played her in the 2021 biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

    Shout-outs and homages 
  • "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.
  • Bomb Girls provides a shout-out to Billie Holiday and Cary Grant.
  • The Simpsons: In "Round Springfield" the ghost of Bleeding Gums Murphy tells Lisa he has to leave: "I got a date with Billie Holiday".
  • The album Stranger Fruit by Zeal & Ardor is named in tribute to "Strange Fruit".
  • Tupac Shakur mentions Holliday as one of the deceased black celbrities in "Thug's Mansion"

  • R&B singer Dominique Fils-Aimé included a cover of "Strange Fruit" on the album Nameless.
  • Nona Hendryx released a cover of "Strange Fruit" on her 2012 album Mutatis Mutandis.
  • Alison Moyet covered "That Ole Devil Called Love" in 1985.
  • The cover of Georges Brassens' song "Le Verger du roi Louis" by François Morel contains samples from "Strange Fruit". Both songs are based on a metaphor describing hanged corpses as fruits in a tree.