Billie Holiday

Ahead of tonight’s poetry event 7.30pm at Three Minute Theatre open mic slots still available here are some thoughts of Anna Percy:

Billie Holiday, Lady Day if you don’t know her will be a voice you never had a name for, her songs are jazz standards and she transcends jazz. Whenever I meet people who make the blanket statement ‘’I hate Jazz’’ I reach for Billie Holiday and she never disappoints she makes people realise Jazz can be many things, it can be women’s voices surviving. I grew up with a mother who belted her songs and others by tough/fragile women in the car, with a step-father in love with jazz. She is part of my earliest music memories. The way Jazz perfectly melded with her voice the instruments echo the qualities in her voice each enriching the other. I have heard it mentioned that often her voice doesn’t appear until quite late into tracks she gave the instruments space in this recording not until 1.30 The way you look tonight.

I heard strange fruit dozens of times before I guessed at the meaning here is an article on that song. Political music can be heartbreakingly beautiful this song proves it. Further articles on what was arguably her most infamous song can be found here.

Hear War Paint plaintively spell her name interweaving it with My Guy in this tune:

In this year the centenary of her birth we must reflect on her legacy in music in that she is spoken of in the same terms as other great ‘’tragic’’ singers a recent article about Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, made sad parallels though Lady Day lived longer and had quite a life before she eventually died at 44.

The media fascination in the disintegration of talented women remains we have enough distance now from her to discuss her great talent, focus on her voice rather than her habit. “It’s one of those cases where it takes like 50 years for someone to get widely known,” he says, “except for scandalous things she got involved with.”

Winehouse will have years to wait, she has only just stopped in the wake of her death being a punchline. Like Winehouse’s back to black Billie Holiday is inextricably linked to Strange Fruit

How the media gorges itself satisfied on the destruction of beautiful talented women the article notes how women are never considered in the same way as tragic male artists

‘’ The pattern is always the same: one Billie Holiday obituary dedicated an entire column to discussing her 1947 arrest and narcotics conviction; years later a Keith Moon obituary mentioned only that “his death comes at a time when he seemed to have recovered from the excesses of earlier years”, without so much as mentioning that those “excesses” included a well-documented struggle with alcoholism and the 32 clomethiazole pills that ultimately killed him. Whitney Houston, like Amy Winehouse, was depicted as a substance-addled mess in the run up to her overdose death, much unlike the courtesy that was lavished unto Michael Jackson, whose latter-day prescription drug habit was neatly and often dismissively attributed to the rueful loneliness of fame, if it was even reported at all.’’

There is never quite the same discussion about male artists it is always the messiness of their lives and appearance many articles about Billie Holiday note the changes in her appearance throughout her life. Much like the media fascination with capturing images of Winehouse stumbling in bloodied ballet flats.

While she is best known for her skilful interpretations of others music she was a songwriter in her own right and I include those she is credited for as a writer or co-writer many debate her co-write on strange fruit for some reason  (credits from here under songs:  -this seems to credit her with more songs than Wikipedia and as it is her official website I am inclined to go with that Lady Sings the Blues Long Gone Blues Stormy Blues Tell Me More   Now or Never Everything Happens for the Best Billie’s Blues (I Love My Man) God Bless the Child Somebody’s on My Mind Fine and Mellow Don’t Explain

We would encourage you to incorporate lyrics or respond to these songs in particular as they came from Lady Day herself these songs often feature her waiting for men or being treated badly frequently she sings ‘’you’re so mean to me’’ or ‘’my man’s so mean to me’’ There is a painful honesty here. Fine and Mellow is a fairly late tv appearance on this list from 1957 and highly worth a watch her joy in the music is palpable despite the lyrics ‘’love will make you do things you know is wrong’’ ‘’love is just like a faucet it turns off and on’’

Don’t explain is a live tv appearance from 1958 she does look more frail here noticeably so but her voice was still fantastic.

Despite her inextricable link to strange fruit and the Blues the memories ever imprinted in my mind are of her joyful tunes played when the sun is shining her voice could be full of joy and we should never forget it I include one of her most joyful tunes

When you’re smiling


The Stirred quad is formed of Rebecca Audra Smith, Anna Percy, Jasmine Chatfield and Lenni Sanders.

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The Stirred team at Reclaim the Night Manchester 2015
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