African American Hero of the Day

African American Almanac
ISBN: 9781578593231

What popular singer from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was later portrayed by Diana Ross in a movie?

  • Her birth name was Eleanor Fagan.
  • In the 1930s she performed with Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson.
  • Columbia Records refused to release her 1939 song "Strange Fruit."
  • She was known as "Lady Day."

Billie Holiday (1915-1959)


Billie Holiday, dubbed "Lady Day" by Lester Young, was one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. She was born Eleanor Fagan on April 7, 1915, in Baltimore, Maryland. While still a young girl, she moved from Baltimore to New York City, and in 1931 she began her singing career in an assortment of Harlem night spots. In 1933 she cut her first sides with Benny Goodman. From 1935 to 1939 she established her reputation with a series of records made with Teddy Wilson. Holiday also sang with the bands of Count Basie, Artie Shaw, and Lester Young.

In such classic records as "Strange Fruit" and her own "God Bless the Child," she departed from popular material to score her greatest artistic triumphs, depicting the harsh reality of Southern lynching and the personal alienation she had experienced. The 1939 release of "Strange Fruit" was rejected by her own label Columbia, which refused to record it. By 1944, with the release of "Lover Man," Holiday's sound reflected more of a pop sound.

At one time addicted to drugs and alcohol, Holiday wrote in her 1956 autobiography Lady Sings the Blues that "all dope can do for you is kill you--and kill you the long, slow, hard way." The subject of a feature film starring Diana Ross, several books, and videos, Billie Holiday is still a powerful force in music decades after her untimely death on July 17, 1959.

From African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence by Lean'tin Bracks, (c) 2012 Visible Ink Press(R). A wealth of milestones, inspiration, and challenges met . . .

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