Black History Series: Lady Day

You go to my head, and you linger like a haunting refrain.

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Billie was one of those jazz singers that went to my head and her voice has left me absolutely spinning.

I wanted to feature Lady Day because she was one of the few Black voices that I took seriously when I was a teenager. I had found an old CD of my mom’s and I put it on my little green player, wondering how I had ever lived without hearing such a voice. That VOICE.

Comparable to the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and her other contemporary, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday worked her way around my heart. She wasn’t just another Black songstress in my life. She also signified a person that my mom and I could bond over.

Just last year, during Thanksgiving, my mom called me over into her room. It was late that night; almost midnight. When I looked up at the television mounted on the wall in front of my parents bed and read the movie title, “Lady Sings the Blues”, I knew and smiled. I settled into bed next to her and we watched the entire thing, singing along to a few songs until the wee hours of the morning.

I never was into jazz or the blues really. I think my best friends, Ashleigh and Terin were more excited about seeing B.B. King in concert than I was! Still, there was something about Billie’s haunting refrains that spoke to my heart.

Her voice carried a certain romance, a simple seduction, a subtle sex appeal. But, it also carried her pain. It was that, I believe, that initially drew me in. The fact that her voice could be both quiet and strong, in such songs like the anti-lynching anthem, Strange Fruit.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

billie-holiday

Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915, with a past riddled in poverty, prostitution, working in Harlem brothels and drug and alcohol abuse, Billie Holiday remains as bright the star she was slowly rising to become until her untimely death in 1959, at the tender age of 44.

Her sultry contralto haunts me, still, in the very best way. ❤

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