Retrospective RT 4142
Billie Holiday: Billie’s Blues
Billie Holliday is one of the tragic cult figures of popular music history. She holds a special rank among the great female jazz vocalists largely because, rather than in spite of, the life she led. Holiday the performer and Holiday the ‘colourful’ female are inseparable counterparts. Her records are therefore doubly documentary: they are at once an emotional, autobiographical communication of her personal tragedy and the stuff of uncomfortable but seemingly ingrained myths and legends. With Billie the words meant everything and her whole style was devoted to wrestling every shred of expression from them. Billie often insisted that Strange Fruit came at the end of a programme for she could sing nothing after it. Billie was quite simply jazz’s greatest vocalist and produced what was described by Carlton Brown as ‘[t]he most anguished and harrowing expression of protest against man’s inhumanity to man that has ever been made in the form of vocal jazz’. Billie Holiday died of cirrhosis of the liver on 17 June 1959, aged just forty-four.