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Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was born in 1915, into a childhood that would be difficult for her. It is said that her childhood had a deep impact on her career and her life. She would go on to become arguably one of the greatest of all jazz singers, but she was plagued with the abuse of drugs.


Billie Holiday
 

Holiday had a childhood that has been described by conjecture and through the reading of her autobiography. It's not clear whether her mother and supposed father, the latter a jazz guitarist, were ever even married, but he left when Billie was just an infant. Billie became an angry youngster, dropping out of school at an early age. She and her mother moved to New York in the 30's.

Holiday began singing in Harlem clubs on an informal basis, and was discovered around the year 1932 by a record producer. The exact producer is argued about, like much of her young life. She had several sessions with Benny Goodman, and recorded "Your Mother's Son-in-Law" in 1933. She also began successfully performing live during those years. She worked with many legends of jazz, although she still had to use the back entrance to clubs, since she was black.

Lady Sings the Blues ...

Holiday experimented with recreational drugs quite a bit over the years, and it is said that she had smoked marijuana by the age of twelve or thirteen. Heroin would be the drug that affected her the most, although it's not clear how she was introduced to that drug. She started using intravenous drugs sometime near 1940.

Her success from that point on was marred by her growing abuse of alcohol and drugs, as well as being in relationships that were abusive. The drugs and alcohol also affected her voice, but she still had an enormous impact on other aspiring musical artists. Nina Simone and Janis Joplin credit her with affecting their work, and Diana Ross would play the Billie Holiday role in a movie called "Lady Sings the Blues", which was based on Holiday's autobiography.

Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do ...

Her personal life did not offer much escape from her addiction to drugs. She would take several husbands through the years - two at one time, in fact, although one was a common law husband. They were all abusive to her to some degree. Her third husband, Louis McKay, worked as an enforcer for the mafia. He abused her as well, but also tried to get her to stop using drugs.

Holiday's late recordings were still often hits, along with those songs performed in her younger days. Many of her songs reflected the life she led, and they became jazz classics. But her last years were filled with tragedy. She didn't have the cabaret card that would allow her to work in clubs in New York City, and she was also swindled out of much of her earnings. She would die a poor woman, unable to overcome her addiction to drugs. She was actually arrested right before she passed away. The cause of the arrest was narcotic addiction. In those days, it was a crime to be addicted, not an illness. She was buried in the Bronx, New York.


 
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