Billie Holiday (1915-1959) was the self-creation of young Eleanora Fagan. She was an important, influential American jazz musician and singer-songwriter with a career that lasted nearly thirty years. Dubbed “Lady Day” by her friend and music partner Lester Young, her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She was known for her distinctive vocal delivery and improvisational skills, which made up for her limited range.
After moving to NYC in 1932, she began to get small gigs at out of the way clubs. She started gaining popularity among her fellow musicians. After years of touring as a vocalist with The Count Basie Orchestra, Holiday was offered her first steady job at the famed Café Society in 1938, earning $75 a week. She went on to be the featured soloist at clubs all over the country. Her singular voice, which she used like a musical instrument, helped transform jazz singing. Holiday:
“I don’t think I’m singing; I feel like I’m playing a horn.”
Holiday had many love affairs with both men and women, but was known as a lesbian among her peers in the Jazz world where she acquired the moniker ”Mister Holiday” because she was seldom seen in the company of gentlemen. Holiday:
”Sure, I’ve been to bed with women… but I was always the man.”
Who else can you think of who had affairs with both Orson Welles and Tallulah Bankhead?