Jazz Legends: Billie Holiday: An Indomitable Spirit Against the US Government | United States


One of Billie Holiday’s most famous quotes, “Sometimes it’s worse to win a fight than to lose”, sums up the end of her own story. The great lady of jazz lost her battle with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), but in so doing her legend was forged as the voice that sang with the greatest depth and integrity against injustice in a United States. segregated, a country plagued by paranoia. on the success of a talented, independent, provocative and black woman like herself. The Republican government of Dwight D. Eisenhower ultimately won their fight with Holiday, who was arrested and jailed for possession of narcotics, but he now remains framed for posterity as the persecutor of a star who never ceased to shine. .

The recently released movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday tells this part of the story of Lady Day, the nickname given to her by her friend Lester Young, whose intense and emotional saxophone was the most faithful companion of Holiday’s anguished and emotional voice. Holiday died of cirrhosis at the New York Metropolitan Hospital in 1959, in police custody due to the ongoing crusade by the FBN. Having worn mink coats and white silk dresses at the height of her fame, she barely had a dollar to her name and died bankrupt and alone, though her vocal jazz is forever preserved as an emblem of pride and human dignity.

Many of these episodes were recounted by Holiday herself in her autobiography. Lady sings the blues, which has become a classic of the genre. Like all memoirs, it is not without personal embellishment and a tendency to blow up the scope of battles fought but, nonetheless, it portrays much of Holiday’s crusade from its roots in a Baltimore slum. “When you are poor you grow up fast,” she wrote. Holiday was forced to grow up too quickly: abandoned by her parents, she lived with her grandmother, who died in her arms. She spent time in reformed schools, suffered abuse, was attempted rape, and found work running errands in a brothel when she was 12. It was there that she fell in love with jazz, a genre of music derided by many whites at the time as “brothel music”. With his unique voice, Holiday elevated him to the sublime.

Billie Holiday in a file photo.Bob willoughby

Surrounded by the greatest conductors of the time, such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson and Count Basie, Holiday’s big break came when she was hired by the Café Society in Greenwich Village, New York. She emerged from this famous Sheridan Square nightclub with the aura of a star, including performing songs like Strange fruit, a poem that the Communist writer Lewis Allen had given him. Holiday composed a song from the poem, which dealt with the lynching of blacks in the southern United States, and it became his “personal protest.” Strange fruit became the first civil rights protest song in US history. During the 1940s, Holiday liked to end his shows with the song to draw attention to the issue and, in his own words, to distinguish “morons and idiots” in the audience: those who clapped at the end of the song. . performance.

Holiday, consumed by the heroine and the pain of being humiliated, was a powerful force on stage. And his memory, almost a century later, remains too.

English version by Rob Train.


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