Like most things in America, men dominate and rarely leave room for the women. In the beginning, jazz was no different. Luckily, they’re were many talented women who were capable enough to outshine anyone in their way. Artists like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday were trailblazers in their time. Their amazing capabilities to sing and bring jazz to life were astonishing.
Famous pianist and singer, Nina Simone, released her acclaimed debut album, “Little Girl Blue” in 1959. This album showcased Simone’s ability to play jazz soulfully but also fiercely at the same time. Around 1964 is when Simone began to involve her music in the Civil Rights Movement. With her song “Mississippi Goddam”, Simone brought to light the struggles of African Americans in the south. The song was written in response to the 1963 church bombing in Montgomery, Alabama. This began the shift in her discography and the beginning of her using jazz as a platform to bring recognition and justice to the black struggle. Because of this, Simone will forever be known as a game changer in jazz, and one of the most influential female artist.
Billie Holiday was a very talented jazz singer who, like Simone, used her platform to discuss racial inequalities in America. With her use of improvisation and strong vocal delivery, Holiday had a way of pouring raw emotion and soul into her works. Her hit with Teddy Wilson called, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” (1935) became a jazz standard with its fast tempo and intricate rhythm. In 1939, Holiday released “Strange Fruit”, which is one of her most iconic political pieces. The song was based on a poem that was written about the lynching of African Americans in the south. She also stated how the song reminded her of her father’s death, and how it was partly due to prejudice. She felt compelled by the fact that years after her father’s death, blacks were still fighting the same problems. Although the song faced a little backlash, it was one of Holiday’s most famous works. Without her courage to record and perform this song, the impact of her efforts to combat injustice would have gone unnoticed.
In the end, these two women were fearless and showed that the success of women in jazz had no bounds. Nina Simone and Billie Holiday were highly influential in their careers and both received the recognition and praise that they deserved. They made jazz more about just chord progressions and sophisticated playing. They instilled substance into the music of jazz. They proved that women were just as capable to take up space.