Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child

Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child

Hammond arranged for Holiday to make her recording debut, at age 18, in November 1933 with Benny Goodman, singing two songs: “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch,” the latter being her first hit.

“Son-in-Law” sold 300 copies, but “Riffin’ the Scotch,” released on November 11, sold 5,000 copies. Hammond was quite impressed by Holiday’s singing style. He said of her, “Her singing almost changed my music tastes and my musical life, because she was the first girl singer I’d come across who actually sang like an improvising jazz genius.” Hammond compared Holiday favorably to Armstrong and said she had a good sense of lyric content at her young age.

In 1935, Billie Holiday had a small role as a woman being abused by her lover in Duke Ellington’s short Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life. In her scene, she sang the song “Saddest Tale.

Lady Sings the Blues (1952–1959)

By the 1950s, Holiday’s drug abuse, drinking, and relationships with abusive men caused her health to deteriorate. She appeared on the ABC reality series The Comeback Story to discuss attempts to overcome her misfortunes. Her later recordings showed the effects of declining health on her voice, as it grew coarse and no longer projected its former vibrancy.

Holiday first toured Europe in 1954 as part of a Leonard Feather package. The Swedish impresario, Nils Hellstrom, initiated the “Jazz Club U.S.A.” (after the Leonard Feather radio show) tour starting in Stockholm in January 1954 and then Germany, Netherlands, Paris and Switzerland.

The tour party was Holiday, Buddy DeFranco, Red Norvo, Carl Drinkard, Elaine Leighton, Sonny Clark, Berryl Booker, Jimmy Raney, and Red Mitchell. A recording of a live set in Germany was released as Lady Love – Billie Holiday.

Holiday’s late recordings on Verve constitute about a third of her commercial recorded legacy and are as popular as her earlier work for the Columbia, Commodore and Decca labels. In later years, her voice became more fragile, but it never lost the edge that had always made it so distinctive.

Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, was ghostwritten by William Dufty and published in 1956. Dufty, a New York Post writer and editor then married to Holiday’s close friend Maely Dufty, wrote the book quickly from a series of conversations with the singer in the Duftys’ 93rd Street apartment. He drew on the work of earlier interviewers as well and intended to let Holiday tell her story in her own way.

To accompany her autobiography, Holiday released an LP in June 1956 entitled Lady Sings the Blues. The album featured four new tracks, “Lady Sings the Blues” (title track), “Too Marvelous for Words”, “Willow Weep for Me”, and “I Thought About You”, as well as eight new recordings of Holiday’s biggest hits to date. The re-recordings included “Trav’lin’ Light” “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child”.

On December 22, 1956, Billboard magazine reviewed Lady Sings the Blues, calling it a worthy musical complement to her autobiography. “Holiday is in good voice now,” said the reviewer, “and these new readings will be much appreciated by her following.” “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child” were called classics, and “Good Morning Heartache”, another reissued track in the LP, was also noted positively.

On November 10, 1956, Holiday performed two concerts before packed audiences at Carnegie Hall, a major accomplishment for any artist, especially a black artist of the segregated period of American history. Live recordings of the second Carnegie Hall concert were released on a Verve/HMV album in the UK in late 1961 called The Essential Billie Holiday.

The thirteen tracks included on this album featured her own songs, “I Love My Man”, “Don’t Explain” and “Fine and Mellow”, together with other songs closely associated with her, including “Body and Soul”, “My Man”, and “Lady Sings the Blues” (her lyrics accompanied a tune by pianist Herbie Nichols).

The liner notes on this album were written partly by Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times, who, according to these notes, served as narrator in the Carnegie Hall concerts. Interspersed among Holiday’s songs, Millstein read aloud four lengthy passages from her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues. He later wrote:

“ The narration began with the ironic account of her birth in Baltimore – ‘Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three’ – and ended, very nearly shyly, with her hope for love and a long life with ‘my man’ at her side.

It was evident, even then, that Miss Holiday was ill. I had known her casually over the years and I was shocked at her physical weakness. Her rehearsal had been desultory; her voice sounded tinny and trailed off; her body sagged tiredly. But I will not forget the metamorphosis that night. The lights went down, the musicians began to play and the narration began.

Miss Holiday stepped from between the curtains, into the white spotlight awaiting her, wearing a white evening gown and white gardenias in her black hair. She was erect and beautiful; poised and smiling. And when the first section of narration was ended, she sang – with strength undiminished – with all of the art that was hers. I was very much moved.

In the darkness, my face burned and my eyes. I recall only one thing. I smiled. The critic Nat Hentoff of Down Beat magazine, who attended the Carnegie Hall concert, wrote the remainder of the sleeve notes on the 1961 album. He wrote of Holiday’s performance:

“ Throughout the night, Billie was in superior form to what had sometimes been the case in the last years of her life. Not only was there assurance of phrasing and intonation; but there was also an outgoing warmth, a palpable eagerness to reach and touch the audience. And there was mocking wit.

A smile was often lightly evident on her lips and her eyes as if, for once, she could accept the fact that there were people who did dig her. The beat flowed in her uniquely sinuous, supple way of moving the story along; the words became her own experiences; and coursing through it all was Lady’s sound – a texture simultaneously steel-edged and yet soft inside; a voice that was almost unbearably wise in disillusion and yet still childlike, again at the centre.

The audience was hers from before she sang, greeting her and saying good-bye with heavy, loving applause. And at one time, the musicians too applauded. It was a night when Billie was on top, undeniably the best and most honest jazz singer alive. ”
Her performance of “Fine and Mellow” on CBS’s The Sound of Jazz program is memorable for her interplay with her long-time friend Lester Young. Both were less than two years from death.

When Holiday returned to Europe almost five years later in 1959, she made one of her last television appearances for Granada’s Chelsea at Nine in London. Her final studio recordings were made for MGM in 1959, with lush backing from Ray Ellis and his Orchestra, who had also accompanied her on Columbia’s Lady in Satin album the previous year—see below. The MGM sessions were released posthumously on a self-titled album, later re-titled and re-released as Last Recordings.

On March 28, 1957, Holiday married Louis McKay, a Mafia enforcer. McKay, like most of the men in her life, was abusive, but he did try to get her off drugs. They were separated at the time of her death, but McKay had plans to start a chain of Billie Holiday vocal studios, à la Arthur Murray dance schools.

Although childless, Billie Holiday had two godchildren: singer Billie Lorraine Feather, daughter of Leonard Feather, and Bevan Dufty, son of William Dufty.

Death

In early 1959 Holiday had cirrhosis of the liver. She stopped drinking on doctor’s orders, but soon relapsed. By May she had lost 20 pounds (9 kg). Friends Leonard Feather, Joe Glaser, and Allan Morrison unsuccessfully tried to get her to a hospital.

On May 31, 1959, Holiday was taken to Metropolitan Hospital in New York with liver and heart disease. She was arrested for drug possession as she lay dying, and her hospital room was raided.Police guarded her room. Holiday continued staying under police guard.

On July 15, she received the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church,[88] before dying two days later from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver on July 17, 1959, at 3:10 am. In her final years, she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings, and she died with $0.70 in the bank and $750 (a tabloid fee) on her person. Her funeral mass was at Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City on July 21, 1959. She was buried at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery.

Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times, who had been the narrator at Billie Holiday’s 1956 Carnegie Hall concerts and had partly written the sleeve notes for the album The Essential Billie Holiday (see above), described her death in these same 1961-dated sleeve notes:

“ Billie Holiday died in Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful.

She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her. The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below. ”

Voice

Her delivery made Billie Holiday’s performances recognizable throughout her career. Her improvisation compensated for lack of musical education. Her voice lacked range and was thin. Years of drugs altered its texture and gave it a fragility. Her voice also included a raspy sound. Holiday said that she always wanted her voice to sound like an instrument and some of her influences were Louis Armstrong and singer Bessie Smith.Her last major recording, a 1958 album entitled Lady in Satin, features the backing of a 40-piece orchestra conducted and arranged by Ray Ellis, who said of the album in 1997:

“ I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You.” There were tears in her eyes … After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.”
Frank Sinatra was influenced by her performances on 52nd Street as a young man. He told Ebony in 1958 about her impact:

“ 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. ”
Hit records[edit]
In 1986, Joel Whitburn’s Record Research, Inc. company compiled information on the popularity of record releases from the pre-rock and roll era and created pop charts dating all the way back to the beginning of the commercial recording industry. The company’s findings were published in the book Pop Memories 1890–1954. Several of Holiday’s records are listed on the pop charts Whitburn created.

Billie Holiday began her recording career on a high note with her first major release “Riffin’ the Scotch” selling 5,000 copies. The song was released under the band name “Benny Goodman & his Orchestra.”

Most of Holiday’s early successes were released under the band name “Teddy Wilson & his Orchestra.” During her stay in Wilson’s band, Holiday would sing a few bars and then other musicians would have a solo. Teddy Wilson, one of the most influential jazz pianists from the swing era, accompanied Holiday more than any other musician. He and Holiday have 95 recordings together.

In July 1936, Holiday began releasing sides under her own name. These songs were released under the band name “Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra.” Most noteworthy, the popular jazz standard “Summertime,” sold well and was listed on the available pop charts at the time at number 12, the first time the jazz standard charted under any artist. Only Billy Stewart’s R&B version of “Summertime” reached a higher chart placement than Holiday’s, charting at number 10 thirty years later in 1966.

Holiday had 16 best selling songs in 1937, making the year her most commercially successful. It was in this year that Holiday scored her sole number one hit as a featured vocalist on the available pop charts of the 1930s, “Carelessly”. The hit “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”, was also recorded by Ray Noble, Glen Gray and Fred Astaire whose rendering was a best seller for weeks. Holiday’s version ranked 6 on the year-end single chart available for 1937.

In 1939, Holiday recorded her biggest selling record, “Strange Fruit” for Commodore, charting at number 16 on the available pop charts for the 1930s.

In 1940, Billboard began publishing its modern pop charts, which included the Best Selling Retail Records chart, the precursor to the Hot 100. None of Holiday’s songs placed on the modern pop charts, partly because Billboard only published the first ten slots of the charts in some issues. Minor hits and independent releases had no way of being spotlighted.

“God Bless the Child”, which went on to sell over a million copies, ranked number 3 on Billboard’s year-end top songs of 1941.

On October 24, 1942, Billboard began issuing its R&B charts. Two of Holiday’s songs placed on the chart, “Trav’lin’ Light” with Paul Whiteman, which topped the chart, and “Lover Man”, which reached number 5.

“Trav’lin’ Light” also reached 18 on Billboard’s year-end chart.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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