Billie Holiday

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I ain't good looking
And my hair ain't curls
But my mother she give me something
It's going to carry me through this world.

Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915July 17, 1959), born Eleanora Fagan Goughy, was an American singer, generally considered one of the greatest jazz voices of all time; she was also known as Lady Day.

Sourced[edit]

Billie's Blues[edit]

Holiday varied the lyrics of this and other songs in her renditions of them; included are some of the major passages of some of the variants.
  • Who love my man, I'm a liar if I say I don't
    But I'll quit my man, I'm a liar if I say I wont.
  • I've been your slave
    Ever since I've been your babe
    But before I be your dog
    I'll see you in your grave.
  • I ain't good looking
    And my hair ain't curls
    But my mother she give me something
    It's going to carry me through this world.
  • Lord I love my man, tell the world I do
    I love my man, tell the world I do
    But when he mistreats me
    Makes me feel so blue.
  • Some men like me talkin' happy
    Some calls it snappy
    Some call me honey
    Others think I got money
    Some tell me baby you're built for speed
    Now if you put that all together
    Makes me everything a good man needs.

God Bless The Child[edit]

Song co-authored with Arthur Herzog Jr.
  • Them that's got shall get
    Them that's not shall lose

    So the Bible said and it still is news
    Mama may have, Papa may have
    But God bless the child that's got his own
    That's got his own.
  • Yes, the strong gets more
    While the weak ones fade
    Empty pockets don't ever make the grade
    Mama may have, Papa may have
    But God bless the child that's got his own
    That's got his own.
  • Money, you've got lots of friends
    Crowding round the door
    When you're gone, spending ends
    They don't come no more
    Rich relations give
    Crust of bread and such
    You can help yourself
    But don't take too much.

Lady Sings the Blues (1956)[edit]

Holiday's autobiography; co-authored with William Dufty
  • No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music.
    • Ch. 4
  • I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.
    • Ch. 4
  • You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation.
    • Ch. 11
  • Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what's more than enough.
    • Ch. 20
  • I've been told that nobody sings the word "hunger" like I do. Or the word "love."
    • Ch. 22
  • If you think dope is for kicks and for thrills, you’re out of your mind. There are more kicks the fuck to be had in a good case of paralytic polio or by living in an iron lung. If you think you need stuff to play music or sing, you’re crazy. It can fix you so you can’t play nothing or sing nothing.
    • Ch. 23
  • I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been.
    • Ch. 23
  • In this country, don’t forget, a habit is no damn private hell. There’s no solitary confinement outside of jail. A habit is hell for those you love. And in this country it’s the worst kind of hell for those who love you.
    • Ch. 24


Misattributed[edit]

  • Southern trees bear a strange fruit
    Blood on the leaf and blood at the root
    Black bodies swingin’ in the southern breeze
    Strange fruit hangin’ in the poplar trees.
    • "Strange Fruit" (1939). Though Holiday's renditions made this anti-lynching song famous, it was written by Abel Meeropol (using his pseudonym "Lewis Allen").

Quotes about Holiday[edit]

  • Behind me, Billie was on her last song. I picked up the refrain, humming a few bars. Her voice sounded different to me now. Beneath the layers of hurt, beneath the ragged laughter, I heard a willingness to endure. Endure- and make music that wasn't there before.
    • Barack Obama. Quoted in "Dreams From My Father" - Page 112 - by Barack Obama
  • Billie Holiday's voice was the voice of living intensity of soul in the true sense of that greatly abused word. As a human being she was sweet, sour, kind, mean, generous, profane, lovable and impossible, and nobody who knew her expects to see anyone quite like her again.
  • She could express more emotion in one chorus than most actresses can in three acts.
  • Billie's voice was shot, though the gardenia in her hair was as fresh as usual. Ben Webster, for so long big man on tenor, was backing her. He was having it rough, too. Yet they transcended. There were perhaps fifteen, twenty patrons in the house. At most. Awful sad. Still, when Lady sang "Fine and Mellow," you felt that way. And when she went into "Willow, Weep for Me," you wept. You looked about and saw that the few other customers were also crying in their beer and shot glasses. Nor were they that drunk. Something was still there, that something that distinguishes an artist from a performer: the revealing of the self. Here I be. Not for long, but here I be. In sensing her mortality, we sensed our own.
    • Studs Terkel on a performance by Holiday in 1956, in Talking to Myself (1977)
  • Billie Holiday’s burned voice
    had as many shadows as lights,
    a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
    the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.
  • I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of "I'm a Fool to Want You." There were tears in her eyes... After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn't until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.

External links[edit]

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