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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, interview in Ebony, 1958

Eleanora Fagan (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), known professionally as Billie Holiday and nicknamed "Lady Day", 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" (which took considerable courage to record, seeing as how it predated the Civil Rights Movement by two decades). She was 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:

  • Berserk Button: Racism seemed to be one.
  • Broken Bird: Where to begin?
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Her legend has been accelerated by her early death.

  • Going Cold Turkey: Many times, in custody and out. Billie had a heroin habit that at its worst 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.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: One instance in Harlem, two unlucky sailors tempted fate by extinguishing their cigarettes on Billie´s coat. She promptly asked them to meet her outside, and beat the living hell out of them. Nobody messed with Billie Holiday.
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  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "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).


  • 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-Out / Homage

  • "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".


  • 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.


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