Eleanora Fagan, professionally known as Billie Holiday, was an American jazz and swing music singer with a career spanning 26 years. She was nicknamed “Lady Day” by her music producer and close friend Lester Young. Holiday has very influential tough on jazz music and pop singing, this was due to her innovation in singing.
Holiday was a successful concert performer throughout the 1950s with two further sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall. Because of personal struggles and an altered voice, her final recordings were met with mixed reaction but were mild commercial successes. Her final album, Lady in Satin, was released in 1958.
Holiday had a very troubling childhood. She was the victim of a attempted rape and sex trafficking as well as a short prison sentence.
After a turbulent childhood, Holiday began singing in nightclubs in Harlem, where she was heard by producer John Hammond. John Hammond commended her on her voice. She signed a recording contract with Brunswick in 1935. A Collaboration with Teddy Wilson produced the hit “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”. This became a jazz standard. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Holiday had mainstream success on labels such as Columbia and Decca.
By the late 1940s, however, she had some trouble legally and with drug abuse. After a short prison sentence, she performed at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, but her reputation deteriorated because of her drug and alcohol problems.
Holiday died of cirrhosis on July 17, 1959.
Holiday won four Grammy Awards, all of them after she had passed, for Best Historical Album. She was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1973. Lady Sings the Blues, a film about her life, starring Diana Ross, was released in 1972. She is the primary character in the play (later made into a film) Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill; the role was originated by Reenie Upchurch in 1986 and was played by Audra McDonald on Broadway and in the film. In 2017 Holiday was inducted into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.
Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She was known for her vocal delivery and improvisational skills.