The incomparable Billie Holiday had a voice like no other. Her singing captures the  fullness and depth of life with all it’s sadness, joy, anger, hope, love, fear and excitement.

Billie grew up in Baltimore. Her father was a jazz guitarist. Initially, she turned tricks for a living before moving to New York City with her mother. She then joined and recorded with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Duke Ellington.


She quit the Artie Shaw band when asked to use the negro entrance at a hotel where they were performing, a common occurrence when touring the segregated US South. Billie did not take kindly to such behaviour and even punched out a club patron after racial abuse.  

Eventually, she moved to Kansas City and sang with the Count Basie Orchestra. While with the Count, she formed a special bond with Lester Young, who stayed her lifelong friend throughout her life. He called her Lady Day and she called him Prez.

Her career blossomed when discovered by impresario John Hammond. She soon became a star and was recognised as America’s greatest singer along with Louis Armstrong whom she adored. She also appeared in several films and even performed at Carnagie Hall to a sold out and ecstatic audience.  

It’s hard to get an accurate picture of Ms. Holiday’s life after writing her autobiography Lady Sings the blue which was also made into a full-length film starring Diana Ross. Was her life dreadful as we are made to believe or was the book sensationalised to increase sales. We’ll never know.

What we do know is that Billie lived life like a man. She drank, gambled and cursed incessantly. Her favourite word was motherfucker. It was rumoured that she slept with both men and women including the film actress Tallulah Bankhead.

Billie had a problem with drugs and was constantly harassed by the FBI, getting busted several times, losing her Cabaret card and unable to perform in NYC. She spent time in jail and months in several mental health hospitals.

She was always linking up with men who abused her, including one man who stole most of her money while acting as her manager. Heart break was no stranger to Billie Holiday. Regardless, she took comfort and received solace from her many dog pets.

One of Billie’s finest performances was for a CBS TV show special called The Sound of Jazz alongside many great musicians including Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young and Gerry Mulligan.

The world adored Billie Holiday. Tragically she died young at 44 due to a drug overdose.