You Say It's Your Birthday: The late Billie Holiday

It's also Janis Ian's birthday today.

Today is the birthday of the late jazz singer Billie

Holiday, who was born Eleanora Fagan in 1915 in Baltimore, Maryland. The

daughter of a guitarist, Holiday grew up doing odd jobs for a local brothel so

she could hear the records of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. When she was

raped at the age of ten, Holiday was carted off to a reform school for being

too "provocative." She moved to New York in the late 1920s, taking singing

jobs; soon she gained the attention of band leader Teddy Wilson, who asked her

to sing with his handpicked group. It was with Wilson that Holiday developed

her famous, sultry vocal style as well as her rapport with saxophonist Lester


Recordings of Holiday's performance on songs like "He's Funny That

Way" and "God Bless the Child" are considered some of her best work, although

in 1937 she moved on to Count Basie's band and then to Artie Shaw's. Because of

racial restrictions, Holiday soon became fed up with performing with all-white

acts and began leading her own groups. Her fame carried her through the

mid-1940s, when her addiction to heroin led to legal troubles and even a year

in prison. She continued to record, but in 1959 she succumbed to kidney disease

and, after being arrested again for heroin possession, died on July 17. She was


Holiday's strength as a female performer has inspired generations of

vocalists since, including recent acts like Erykah Badu, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple

and the Wild Colonials' Angela McCluskey.

Other birthdays: Mark Kibble

(Take 6), the late Percy Faith, Charley Thomas (Drifters), Spencer Dryden

(Jefferson Airplane), Mick Abrahams (Jethro Tull), Bill Kreutzmann (Grateful

Dead), Florian Schneider (Kraftwerk), Pat Bennett (Chiffons), Carol Douglas,

John Oates-1949 Janis Ian, Bruce Gary (The Knack) and Simon Climie (Climie

Fisher). -- Beth Winegarner