Billie Holiday, a Jazz mastermind.

Let's start with Jazz

African-American Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with its roots being blues and ragtime. New Orleans was the perfect city for Jazz due to it being a port city. It was a meeting place for people of different ethnic groups where musicians had the opportunity to play together, learn from each other, and blend all of the wonderful elements of Jazz. 

Eleanora Fagan Gough

Born on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and most commonly known as Billie Holiday, Eleanora grew up in jazz-soaked Baltimore of the 1920s. She began apprenticing under Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong in her early teens, then after moving to New York, she began making appearances at jazz clubs. Lacking professional training in the art, Eleanora quickly adopted an active role in the Harlem Renaissance. She found her staged name, Billie Holiday, from the actress Billie Dove.

Billie Holiday

At age 18, Holiday was spotted by producer John Hammond as she began working with artist like Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Lester Young, who named her “Lady Day”. Following that, she joined Kansas City’s Count Basie Orchestra, only to later be invited to join Artie Shaw’s Orchestra in 1938, becoming the first black women to work with a white band in 1938.   

In the 1930’s Billie sang “Strange Fruit”, a controversial hit that made Billie drop from her record label. “Strange Fruit” is said to the first protest song of the civil rights era.  

In 1939, she wrote “God Bless the Child”, now part of the great American songbook and jazz lexicon, with Arthur Herzog, Jr. 

10 years later she starred in her first Hollywood film “New Orleans” with her musical hero, Louis Armstrong. 


After adopting a new rugged and intimate sound, Holiday produced the composition “Lady Sings The Blues”. Later on after signing to Columbia Records in 1958, she created a masterpiece of an album, “Lady in Satin”. She died at age 44, however her legacy lives on. 

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