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The blues is the name given to both a musical form, and a music genre created within the African American communities in the deep south of the United States. The blues and jazz became a way of life in the twentieth century, because our economical growth was built somewhere else and we carried the music with us sense the beginning of time.
All our lives we listen to music, when we were babies our mother sung lullabies, when we got older she play music for us, and our teachers taught us music in grade school. Did you ever stopped and wondered why music made us feel a certain way, or even acted a certain way, and sometimes how some things reminded us of a song we heard.
In this paper I am going to talk about appreciation of the blues and the legendary Billie Holiday, who made the music her own. I will talk about her life, and how she was gone to soon, and how her beginnings started out of despair instead of desperation
The legendary Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan Gough, on April 15, 1915, in Baltimore, Maryland. She changed her name to Billie because of her love for the actress by the name of Billie Dove; her father’s last name was holiday, so she went along with that. Billie’s parents Sadie Fagan and Clarence holiday were very young when they had her, her father was 15 years old and her mother was 13, (not uncommon in those days teen pregnancy has been going on for decades). They got married because they were very much in love with each other. Billie’s father took trumpet lessons hoping one day he would become a musician, and her mother worked as a maid. World War I interrupted the families’ plans, and Clarence was drafted in the army to fight for his country. Clarence’s lungs was damaged during his time in Germany, he happen to inhale a poisons’ gas, and it ruined his chances to becoming the trumpet player he wanted so desperately to be. Fortunately all was not lost, while he was in Paris recovering, he learned to play the guitar. When he got back with his family, he was a professional guitarist and he played with jazz bands like, Don Redman and Fletcher Henderson. – Billie Holiday
In 1927, Eleanora (not yet Billie) moved to Harlem N.Y. with her mother. They tried hard to make ends meet while Clarence was on the road touring, Sadie and Eleanora prostituted to make money, so they can eat. They did that for two years until they got arrested for prostitution. After that episode Eleanora started singing at the tables in Harlem’s night clubs. She made enough money to survive for a while.
According to Meg Greene; at the age of 17 years old Billie opens at Covans night club on 132st in Harlem, that next year she was discovered by a producer by the name of John Hammond. And that is when her career as Billie Holiday took off, in the year of 1933. Billie Holiday sang at famous places and played in films with duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and appeared at the famous Apollo theatre.
Billie started singing at a young age; she had her first recorded song at the age of 18 years old. Her first recorded songs were God Bless the Child, and Strange Fruit.
Billie’s jazz technique was fascinating, she used phrasing and tempo, and made it her own, making her voice and sounds different in a way no one ever heard before. – God Bless the Child
Billie Holiday transformed the art of jazz singing; modern day jazz singing began with her. Her life was filled with more sadness and tragedy than joy and love. Billie personalized her tune, something no one ever did in the history of blues and jazz. She phrased her voice behind the beat and added harmonies deprived from her favorite horn players, such as Louis Armstrong and Lester Young. Billie phrased her voice like an instrumentalist. Technology enhanced Billie’s voice; the microphone humanized her voice to develop the expressive style for which she became famous. – Billie Holiday a Biography
Holiday stated that she began using heroin in the early 1940s. She married trombonist Jimmy Monroe on August 25, 1941. While still married to Monroe, she became romantically involved with trumpeter Joe Guy, who was also her drug dealer, and eventually became his common law wife. She finally divorced Monroe in 1947 and also split with Guy. Because of her 1947 conviction, her New York City Cabaret Card was revoked, which kept her from working in clubs there for the remaining 12 years of her life, except when she played at the Ebony Club in 1948, where she opened under the permission of John Levy, she managed to keep up her appearance despite of her drug use. In 1941, Billie holiday was hooked on heroin. She had a $500 dollar a week habit, she was busted for drug possession and got locked up for one year and a day in prison, that’s what made her disappear from the lime light for a while. In jail Billie had to stay in quarantine because of her drug habit, she had to go through a withdrawal that caused her to go through changes with her body she didn’t know about; Billie was forced to kick her drug habit cold turkey. Later when she was outdoors with the rest of the inmates, she had a sun stroke and collapse in the yard. That’s when they found out she was not fit to be in population with the rest of the inmates, she was sent to cook and clean. Finally when Billie Holiday came back on the seen, her manager had managed to get her an opening in Carnegie hall where the rich and famous go for a concert, before show time she was a little nervous, but she went out on stage and gave a great performance. Billie did to curtain calls, and then she collapsed back stage.
Finally, Billie continued to record and performs afterward; this marked the major turning point in her career. For the next seven years, Holiday would slip deeper into alcoholism and begin to lose control of her once perfect voice. In 1959, Billie Holiday died at the age of forty-four. During her lifetime she had fought racism and sexism, and in the face of great personal difficulties triumphed through a deep artistic spirit. It is a tragedy that only after her death could a society, who had so often held her down, realize that in her voice could be heard the true voice of the times. www.pbs.org/wnet
Lord I love my man, tell the world I do
I love my man, tell the world I do
But when he mistreats me
Makes me feel so blue
My man wouldn’t give me no breakfast
Wouldn’t give me no dinner
Fought about my supper and put me outdoors
Had the dark clay make black spots on my clothes
I didn’t have so many
But I had a long, long way to go
Some men like me talkin’ happy
Some calls it snappy
Some call me honey
Others think I got money
Some tell me baby you’re built for speed
Now if you put that all together
Makes me everthing a good man needs
Billie Holiday that’s what everybody knew her as
Eleanora Fagan, that’s what they called her in class
She had a voice that will knock you off your feet
They neglected her when she was out prostituting on the street
Her mother was a youngster
Her father was a trumpeter
But her life ended oh so soon
I will always remember Billie Holiday for many many moons
While researching this paper, I felt attached to the era of the 1920’s, I felt like I was right there in the audience listening to Billie holiday. She inspired me, her story was not all glist and glamour but it was real. When she sung the blues, I said there she is the lady that sings the blues.
Greene, Meg, Billie Holiday Biography. United States, 2007.
Holiday, Billie, Arthur Heizog,( Jr.) , God Bless the Child. 1941.
Kliment, Bud, Billie Holiday the Singer. Chelsea House, New York 1990.
www.pbs.org/wnet -April 14, 2010
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