Jazz legend Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan Gough in Baltimore, Md.,
on this date in 1915. She did not have a stable early life. Her father,
Clarence, was a guitar player who never married her mother and abandoned
his family early on. Holiday's mother was often unavailable to her. This
precarious early life left Holiday with an inferiority complex, which led
to her self-destructive personality. After running errands for a
Philadelphia brothel in her teens, Billie moved to New York in 1927. There,
she was a prostitute for three years. But she loved singing and eventually
convinced a Harlem club manager to let her perform with the house band. She
was soon discovered by legendary recording scout John Hammond, who arranged
her first recording session with Benny Goodman in 1933.
"Lady Day," as she was nicknamed, joined the Count Basie Band in 1937 and
soon began recording with Lester Young and Buck Clayton. During the ensuing
years she made some of her finest jazz records, accompanied by these kings
of swing. In 1939 she recorded the historic "Strange Fruit," an anti-racism
statement that was a keystone of her repertoire for the rest of her life.
Between 1944 and 1949, she was with Decca Records, where she made hits
including "Lover Man," "Good Morning Heartache," "Them There Eyes" and
"Don't Explain." But she was soon a heroin addict and was arrested and
jailed in 1947. This notoriety only increased her celebrity. Then, as she
reached the zenith of her popularity, her life began to slip away. Her
voice began to greatly deteriorate in 1950, and her many unhappy
personal relationships caused her to drink and use heroin more frequently.
In 1956, she was arrested again and entered a clinic. Holiday enjoyed one
last hurrah in 1957 when she sang "Fine and Mellow" on the "Sound of Jazz"
TV show with Young, Ben Webster and others. In 1959, on her deathbed, she
was placed under arrest for heroin possession for the final time. Her
legend has grown with the increased appreciation of her classic recordings
as the decades have passed. In 1973, Diana Ross was nominated for a Best
Actress Oscar for portraying Holiday in "Lady Sings The Blues."
Other birthdays: Spencer Dryden (Jefferson Airplane), 55; Mick Abrahams (Jethro Tull), 55;
Bill Kreutzmann (Grateful Dead), 52; Florian Schneider (Kraftwerk), 51; Pat
Bennett (Chiffons), 51; Carol Douglas, 50; John Oates, 49; Janis Ian, 47;
Bruce Gary (The Knack), 46; Simon Climie (Climie Fisher), 38; and Phil
Buerstatte (White Zombie), 31.