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Died On This Date (July 17, 1959) Billie Holiday / Jazz Icon

Posted by themusicsover on July 17, 2010

Billie Holiday (Born Eleanora Fagan)
April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959

Billie Holiday was one of the of the most influential singers popular music has ever known, but sadly, she was also one of its most tragic figures. After a childhood that included the abandonment of a father, tremendous poverty, Catholic reform school, at least one rape, and time served for prostitution, Holiday began singing in local clubs for tips in order to survive. It was reportedly at one of these clubs in 1933, that she was discovered by ace talent scout, John Hammond. This lead to Holiday’s recording debut on two Benny Goodman sides later that year.  From there, Holiday was soon signed to Brunswick Records and was singing for the likes of Artie Shaw and Count Basie.   Within a decade she was being regarded as one of the most important voices in jazz.   Even though she was well on her way to fame and fortune, Holiday couldn’t shake her painful past.  In 1947 she was arrested for drug possession and served nearly a year in prison where she claims she didn’t sing one note of music.  Holiday made a triumphant return to stage less than two weeks after she was released.  It was Carnegie Hall, and by all accounts, her set was staggering.  She would again be arrested for drug possession less than a year later.   By the early 50s, Holiday was having trouble landing gigs due to her record and seemingly continued down the road of drug and alcohol abuse.  Unfortunately, her only support system seemed to be a string of abusive men she connected with through most of her adult life.  While close to death in hospital in May of 1959, the local police kept a guard at her door, raided her room and arrested her for drug possession while she lay dying.  Two weeks later, Billie Holiday was dead of cirrhosis of the liver.  She had less than $1000 to her name.

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