Today in our series of portraits on the women of CASA Billie Holliday the one who names our color Light Mauve.
Eleanora Fang was born in Philadelphia on April 7, 1915, to the cohabitation of a jazz guitarist and an Irish woman. Her father refusing to recognize her and her mother abandoning her to find ways to survive, from housekeeping to occasional prostitution, young Eleanora will be left to herself a lot and will experience a childhood far from the ideal of innocence that we believe. 'In fact.
She will be under the guardianship of multiple aunts and cousins and will even be placed in a reformatory for young black people. There, she will be the victim of violence and rape.
At 13, she finally joined her mother in New York, where she cleaned in a brothel and ended up prostituting there herself, which earned her a stay in prison. Upon her release a few months later, she began to gain some notoriety as a jazz singer in various clubs and speakeasies, notably at the Log Cabin in Harlem. It was then that she took the name Billie Holiday, in homage to Billie Dove, a silent film icon whom she admired.
She continued to sing around town, meeting many musicians and expanding her network, until 1933, when John H. Hammond, a producer for Columbia, heard her singing while she was filling in. Hammond opened the doors of his studios to her, where she recorded her first two songs: Your Mother's Son-in-Law and Riffin' the Scotch with Benny Goodman on clarinet.
Many successes then followed: a duet with Booby Enderson at the famous Apollo Theater, a role in the short film Symphony in Black by Duke Ellington, records appearing in the best sales of the year, the tour dotted with numerous meetings with influential musicians who inspired and supported his talent (notably Lester Young), as well as several romantic liaisons.
She will even sing for a large orchestra, but this tour will come up against racism and will have to be cut short. In fact, in the southern states, he is prohibited from singing, booking a hotel or even going to a restaurant with the rest of the orchestra.
Back in New York, she begins to fall into alcohol and drugs. She also earns the nickname 'Mister Holiday' by multiplying her female conquests. In 1939, Billie accepted Abel Meeropol's proposal to put into song his poem Strange Fruit, dealing with the lynching of blacks, a subject close to the heart of Billie who lost a member of her family at the hands of racists. Strange Fruit will raise a huge controversy, which will obviously earn it immense success.
Recordings, concerts and successes multiplied over the following years. Billie Holiday collaborates with many renowned musicians. A brief marriage to a drug-addicted crook will cause her to fall deeper into drugs, introducing her to cocaine and opium. This will not prevent her from being the first black singer at the Metropolitan Opera and from beginning a prestigious tour with an orchestra.
Billie comments on this period of opulence with politicized foresight: "I quickly became one of the highest paid slaves in the region, I earned a thousand dollars a week, but I had no more freedom than if I had picked the cotton in Virginia. »
The death of her mother in 1945 caused her to sink into a deep depression and even deeper into her consumption of alcohol and drugs, which caused her to interrupt her tour. However, she continued to sing and recorded some of her best-known songs. Despite forced detoxification, she was arrested in 1947 for drug possession and found herself in prison for the second time in her life, where she emerged ruined by drugs and the dishonesty of her lovers.
She can no longer sing in clubs or any other place selling alcohol, having lost her card due to 'lack of morality'. Several years of troubles, scandals and other money and drug problems followed, despite several successes. Her health deteriorated and was severely tested by another trial for drug possession, a 12-month ordeal that left her even more fragile.
However, she continued to sing and recorded poignant and emotionally rich albums: Lady in Satin and her latest album Billie Holiday.
His performances, however, are greatly affected by his weakened health. Her condition became critical, which did not prevent her from continuing to take drugs and drink, even in her own hospital room where she was admitted after falling in her home in 1959, then aged 44. She will therefore be kept there under police surveillance and she will be promised a trial upon her release, which will never take place since she dies on July 17, a little more than two months after her admission, of a kidney infection coupled with pulmonary congestion.
It would be an understatement to say that Billie Holiday had a difficult life. Despite everything, she was able to make her exceptional voice resonate well beyond the United States, despite drugs, racism and poverty. Her songs moved her contemporaries and ours and inspired many artists like Nina Simone, Ester Philipps and Macy Gray.