The Day Lady Died
July 17, 2011 9:50 AM   Subscribe

July 17th 1959: "Billie Holiday died in a New York City hospital from cirrhosis of the liver after years of alcohol abuse, aged 43 (while under arrest for heroin possession, with police officers stationed at the door to her room). In the final years of her life, she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings, and she died with $0.70 in the bank." Still, the world remembers her for her music, her voice that changed lives. Some of her best: Nice Work If You Can Get It, Fine and Mellow, Strange Fruit, I'll Be Seeing You, Good Morning Heartache, Summertime, I'm A Fool to Want You, As Time Goes By, Solitude, Come Rain or Come Shine and The Man I Love.

Here's a poem by Frank O'Hara remembering the day she died. Previously: versions of Gloomy Sunday, Strange Fruit documentary and a 1972 biopic.
posted by pleasebekind (30 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain
posted by growabrain at 9:52 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you, Billie.
posted by longsleeves at 9:57 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge fan of Billie Holiday so it seems disrespectful to post this, but David Sedaris' impression of Billie Holiday singing the Oscar Meyer theme is painfully funny. There's more, I think in This American Life #104.
posted by Nelson at 10:16 AM on July 17, 2011

Her reincarnation, Madeleine Peyroux, does a great cover of Between the Bars.
posted by notion at 10:31 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Fixed date.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:32 AM on July 17, 2011

notion, I like Peyroux, too. The first time I heard her, I immediately thought of Holiday. Thanks for the link.
posted by pleasebekind at 10:39 AM on July 17, 2011

I love the poem - evocative.
posted by paduasoy at 10:55 AM on July 17, 2011

"I've been told that nobody sings the word 'hunger' like I do. Or the word 'love.' Maybe I remember what those words are all about. Maybe I'm proud enough to want to remember Baltimore and Welfare Island, the Catholic institution and the Jefferson Market Court, the sheriff in front of our place in Harlem and the towns from coast to coast where I got my lumps and scars, Philly and Alderson, Hollywood and San Francisco -- every damn bit of it. All the Cadillacs and minks in the world -- and I've had a few -- can't make it up or make me forget it. All I've learned in all those places from all those people is wrapped up in those two words. You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body's sermon on how to behave. Everything I am and everything I want out of life goes smack back to that.

"Look at my big dream! It's always been to have a big place of my own out in the country someplace where I could take care of stray dogs and orphan kids, kids that didn't ask to be born; kids that didn't ask to be black, blue or green or something in between." -- Billie Holiday, Lady sings the blues
posted by blucevalo at 11:07 AM on July 17, 2011 [16 favorites]

Here's a story about how Madeleine Peyroux came to sound like Billie Holiday. This is from when she was a street musician in Paris and had started playing with another street musician, Danny Fitzgerald, and his group.
So he gives her a cassette [inaudible] of Billie Holiday songs, and says, "Learn the first three songs on this tape; come back when you're done." And Madeleine comes back to him two weeks later. "Ok, I've learned your songs." And, she had not learned the songs, she had taken on the voice and the persona. And ... that's how she learned to sign.
--Larry Klein, from the documentary Somethin' Grand
posted by -jf- at 11:15 AM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oops, that was Yves Beauvais telling that story.
posted by -jf- at 11:32 AM on July 17, 2011

I've been listening to her all day, since I woke up. Ah, Billie. There never was anyone quite like you...
posted by perilous at 11:49 AM on July 17, 2011

I think Peyroux is a great singer.. but I wish she would sing as herself rather than Holiday. I understand it can be done in honor and homage... but as good as Peyroux is, she is not Holiday and I don't want to be caught off guard every-time I hear her.
posted by edgeways at 11:50 AM on July 17, 2011

She sings so soulfully that, at times, I feel ashamed listening to something that is so private.

posted by ersatz at 1:03 PM on July 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

Who swindled her and what happened to them (the swindlers)?
posted by jcruelty at 1:12 PM on July 17, 2011

TIL I was just under two months old when Billie Holiday died.
posted by Decani at 1:23 PM on July 17, 2011

One of the most uplifting songs ever is by the late Gil Scott-Heron (and was probably posted when he died last month); and it's about being lifted up by Lady Day (and John Coltrane):
posted by kozad at 2:00 PM on July 17, 2011

I think Peyroux is a great singer.. but I wish she would sing as herself rather than Holiday.

I don't think she's singing as Billie Holiday, like it's an impersonation. I think she's singing as herself, and just happens to have learned to sing by singing like Billie Holiday.

There's also a rebuttal in the documentary I mentioned above. (And there's relevance towards the larger topic too, so I don't feel too bad in continuing with this tangent.)
People often compared her to Billie Holiday, especially near the beginning of her career. And after a while, some critics sorta took that as a bad thing. How can that be a bad thing? That could be a bad thing if someone says, like, "Oh you sound like Jessica Simpon." You know, then maybe you gotta get your dukes up.

Almost every singer that followed Billie Holiday came under her spell in some way. Even Frank Sinatra took some of his phrasing from Billie Holiday. You can hear some of Billie Holiday in Madeleine Peyroux's voice, but as she's matured, as she's grown as an artist, I think she's found her own way.

--Christopher Farley
posted by -jf- at 2:19 PM on July 17, 2011

Nobody sang blue like Billy. I think ersatz captured how I feel. Listening to Billy can be very emotionally gripping.
posted by caddis at 2:52 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

She gives me chills. Thanks.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:22 PM on July 17, 2011

She always gives me chills. Thanks.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:30 PM on July 17, 2011

Great post. Cheers.
posted by nola at 4:50 PM on July 17, 2011

I contend that Billie Holiday has yet to be equaled in phrasing, soul or just sheer guts when it came to singing. Mrs. Arcticseal prefers Nina Simone, but she's deluded in that regard.
posted by arcticseal at 4:50 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

She always reminds of what should be and what is.
She was a treasure.

Lover man

Charlie Parkers cover of same title.
posted by clavdivs at 4:54 PM on July 17, 2011

amen arcticseal,
posted by clavdivs at 4:55 PM on July 17, 2011

though not commenting about Mrs. Arcticseal, PREVIEW!
posted by clavdivs at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2011

prefers Nina Simone

arcticseal, I love Nina Simone. Although I think it would be very hard for me to prefer one over the other. I think there's just something about Simone's body of work that speaks to me as a woman.

That being said, I agree with this, too: "...Billie understood something that Nina doesn't deal with: decay, destruction, endings. Even the most gut-wrenching reading of a song by Nina Simone is finally about hope. Billie gets her delicate hands right down into the final soil. And because she does, her emotional range is so much wider."

Also: Tribute to Billie Holiday by Nina Simone.
posted by pleasebekind at 6:34 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

clavdivs - You might have a point, she did marry me :)

pleasebekind - I think that's why Mrs. A prefers Nina over Billy. That quote you linked to says it all.
posted by arcticseal at 7:02 PM on July 17, 2011

My absolute favorite: God bless this child.
posted by francesca too at 9:26 PM on July 17, 2011

man, i've been listening to peyroux for so long that i'd forgotten how much she sounded like holiday
posted by camdan at 7:45 PM on July 18, 2011

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