Billy Holiday: Biography and Music Career

Published At: 07 March 2020 , 04:23 PM

Biography of Billy Holiday

Billy Holiday did not have a strong voice and a broad vocal range, like jazz singers. But the charming voice of the American performer, filled with drama, tenderness, and expression continues to excite the hearts of listeners today. The magnetism of performances, the skill of improvisation made her the star of world jazz music.

Childhood and youth of Billy Holiday

The singer was born on April 7, 1915, in Baltimore. The girl's parents were minors Clarence Holiday, who was 16 at that time, and Sadie Feigan, the young mother, was 18. At birth, the child received the name of Eleanor and the name of her mother, since Clarence soon disappeared from the family. The first years of her life were difficult. As a child, the performer did not know maternal love - the mother left her daughter to raise her great-grandmother and left for New York in search of a better life.

The girl spent a lot of time on the street, suffered punishments from relatives. At the age of 12 (according to other sources - 14) years, Eleanor moved to New York, where she worked part-time in nightclubs and brothels as a cleaner. Once in one of them the girl heard enchanting jazz music - it was love at first sight. Feigan agreed with the owner of the institution that she would clean it for free in exchange for free listening to the records.

At the same time, a black American woman discovers the world of cinema. The cinema gave the singer a creative pseudonym Billy, named after actress Billy Dove, films with which Eleanor liked. In her youth, the girl often found herself behind bars, which gave rise to dramatic experiences in the soul of the future jazz singer.

Personal life

The first husband of the queen of jazz was Jimmy Monroe, Alfons, who accustomed his wife to opium. Soon, the singer began an affair with manager Joe Guy - he "put" her lover on heroin. This was the beginning of the end of Holiday's brilliant career. The last vivid hobby of Billy was Louis Mackay, who regularly beat his wife and took away her earned money.

Billy Holiday Music Career

The singer's work began in the early 30s when she started performing in Harlem nightclubs, in which the illegal trade in alcohol was carried out during Prohibition. Even then, a young performer without a musical education charmed the audience with a unique voice. Soon, producer John Hammond drew attention to a talented girl. This meeting has changed a lot in the creative biography of the singer.

Hammond organized the recordings of the singer with jazzman Benny Goodman in 1933. After two years, Billy collaborated with the Count Basie big band, but due to obstinate character and lack of discipline, the girl Basie soon stopped working with her. In the period 1940-1950, the performer performs in nightclubs, acts in films, creates her compositions, releases albums.

At this time, the girl is already known in the world of American jazz along with the creative "rival" Ella Fitzgerald. The hits are songs of Lover Man, Don't Explain, popular on both sides of the ocean. In 1935, the film "Symphony in Black" was released, where Duke Ellington himself became a partner of the Holiday, and photos of the vocalist appear in print.

Throughout her life, the artist was tormented by the problems of racial discrimination. For some clubs, her exotic appearance was not "black" enough, and Billy was even asked to "darken" her face, for others - not enough white. This resonated with the artist. In 1939, the singer recorded the Strange song Fruit on the text and music of the public figure Abel Miropol, dedicated to the theme of lynching a black man.


Holiday has changed the producers' ideas about the personality of a jazz singer. Before this, it was believed that black artists did not have individuality; they were easily interchanged. Billy declared herself as a charismatic, vibrant, unique person, whose appearance on the stage became an event. The performer was devoted entirely to music, but her whole soul into singing.

Gardenia was the celebrity's favorite flower. Once, unsuccessfully twisting a curl with a curling iron, the artist decided to close her hair with a flower. Since then, the singer has always performed with a floral accessory. Fans gave the diva the nickname Lady Gardenia, which accompanied the performer all her life.