Billie Holiday at the Downbeat club, New York City 1947 (Library of Congress)
Billie Holiday lived through a traumatic childhood, pervasive racism, and personal struggles to become one of the greatest jazz singers in history. With her unique sound, impeccable sense of rhythm, brilliant capacity to recompose song melodies and to skate across the line between speech and song, it’s no wonder Holiday’s recordings endure.
Join leading jazz expert John Edward Hasse as he draws on film and video clips, rare photographs, and original recordings to provide insight into Holiday’s extraordinary journey from abused girl from Baltimore to troubled but brilliant, world-famous singer.
Hear her “Mean to Me” and its magical interplay with her musical soul mate, saxophonist Lester Young; marvel at her haunting recording of “Lover Man”; and learn the story of her heartfelt anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit.” View classic footage of Holiday with Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.
As he traces the musical evolution and triumph of one of America’s greatest singers, Hasse also shares stories about Holiday’s harrowing childhood, her struggles with drug addiction (she served time in a penitentiary), and her famously uneven public performances. He shows a document from the American History Museum’s Apollo Theater Collection that is a heartbreaking testament to her demons. And he shares an anecdote about how the saxophone and famous porkpie hat of her partner Lester Young—he dubbed her “Lady Day”—came to the Smithsonian.
Hasse is curator emeritus of American music at the American History Museum.
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