I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, PEOPLEIN AMERICA. Every week we tell about a person important in thehistory of the United States. This week, we tell about BillieHoliday. She was one of the greatest jazz singers in America.
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That was Billie Holiday singing one of her famous songs. She andArthur Herzog wrote it. Billie Holiday's life was a mixture ofsuccess and tragedy. Her singing expressed her experiences and herfeelings.
Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan in Nineteen-Fifteen inBaltimore, Maryland. Her parents were Sadie Fagan and ClarenceHoliday. They were young when their daughter was born. Theirmarriage failed because Clarence Holiday was not at home much. Hetraveled as a musician with some of the earliest jazz bands.
Sadie Fagan cleaned people's houses. But she could not supporther family on the money she earned. So she moved to New York Citywhere the pay was higher. She left her daughter in Baltimore withmembers of her family.
The young girl Eleanora Fagan changed her name to Billie, becauseshe liked a movie star, Billie Dove. Billie Holiday loved to sing.She sang and listened to music whenever she could. One place nearher home had a machine that played records. The building was abrothel where women who were prostitutes had sex with men for money.
p>Billie cleaned floors and did other jobs for the prostitutes soshe could listen to the records. It was there that young Billiefirst heard the records of famous black American blues artists ofthe Nineteen-Twenties. She heard Bessie Smith sing the blues. Andshe heard Louis Armstrong play the horn. Both musicians had a greatinfluence on her.
BIllie Holiday once said, "I do not think I'm singing. I feellike I am playing a horn. What comes out is what I feel. I hatestraight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it.That is all I know."
Here is Billie Holiday singing a popular song of theNineteen-Thirties, "More than You Know."
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Billie Holiday had a tragic childhood. When she was ten, a mansexually attacked her. She was accused of causing the man to attackher and sent to a prison for children.
In Nineteen-Twenty-Seven, Billie joined her mother in Harlem, thearea of New York City where African-Americans lived. Billie's mothermistakenly sent her to live in a brothel. Billie became a prostituteat the age of thirteen. One day, she refused the sexual demands of aman. She was arrested and spent four months in prison.
Two years later, Billie's mother became sick and could not work.Fifteen-year-old Billie tried to find a job. Finally, she was givena job singing at a place in Harlem where people went at night todrink alcohol and listen to music.
For the next seventeen years, Holiday was one of the most popularnight club singers in New York. She always wore a long white eveningdress. And she wore large white flowers in her black hair. Shecalled herself "Lady Day."
In the early Nineteen-Thirties, a music producer, John Hammond,heard Billie Holiday sing in a night club. He called her the bestjazz singer he had ever heard. He brought famous people to hear hersing.
Hammond produced Holiday's first records. He got the best jazzmusicians to play. They included Benny Goodman on clarinet, TeddyWilson on piano, Roy Eldridge on trumpet and Ben Webster onsaxaphone. They recorded many famous songs with Billie Holiday. "IWished on the Moon" is one of them.
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In the late Nineteen-Thirties, Billy Holiday sang with ArtieShaw's band as it traveled around the United States. She was one ofthe first black singers to perform with a white band. But racialseparation laws in America made travel difficult for her.
During this time, a new nightclub opened in the area of New Yorkcalled Greenwich Village. It was the first club that had both blackand white performers. And it welcomed both black and white people tohear the performers. The night club was called Cafe Society.
It was here that Billy Holiday first sang a song called "StrangeFruit." A school teacher named Lewis Allan had written it for her.The song was about injustice and oppression of black people in thesouthern part of the United States. It told about how mobs of whitemen had killed black men by hanging them from trees.
Many people objected to the song. It was unlike any other popularsong. But it was a huge hit. Here is Billie Holiday singing "StrangeFruit."
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In the Nineteen-Forties, Holiday started using the illegal drugheroin. Soon her body needed more and more of the drug. It began toaffect her health.
In Nineteen-Forty-Seven, Billie Holiday was arrested forpossessing illegal drugs. She was found guilty and sentenced to ninemonths in prison. When she was released, New York City officialsrefused to give her a document that permitted her to work in anyplace that served alcoholic drinks. This meant Holiday no longercould sing in night clubs and jazz clubs. She could sing only intheaters and concert halls.
Ten days after her release from jail, she performed at New York'sfamous Carnegie Hall. People filled the place to hear her sing. Thisis one of the songs she sang at that concert. It is called "I Coverthe Waterfront."
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In Nineteen-Fifty-Six, Billie Holiday wrote a book about herlife. The book was called Lady Sings the Blues. A friend at the NewYork Post newspaper, William Dufty, helped her write the book. A fewmonths later, she was arrested again for possessing illegal drugs.But instead of going to prison, she was permitted to seek treatmentto end her dependence on drugs. The treatment was successful.
That same year, she performed her second concert at CarnegieHall. Here is one of the songs Holiday sang that night. It is called"Lady Sings the Blues." She and Herbie Nichols wrote it.
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Billy Holiday's health was ruined by using illegal drugs and bydrinking too much alcohol. Her last performance was inNineteen-Fifty-Nine. She had to be led off the stage after singingtwo songs. She died that year. She was only forty-four. But Lady Daylives on through her recordings that continue to influence the bestjazz singers.
This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. Itwas produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week at this time foranother PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on VOA.