Apr 6, 2011
Ninety-six years after her birth, on April 7th, 2011, WKCR will dedicate all programming to Billie Holiday. Holiday was born Elinore Fagan in Baltimore in 1915. Despite the instability and tragedy of her childhood, Holiday learned songs by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. In 1929, she teamed up with tenor sax player Kenneth Hollan and slowly built her reputation as a vocalist, replacing Monette Moore at a club called “Covan’s” on West 132 Street in 1932. When producer John Hammond came to see Moore, he was instead captivated by Holiday. He secured a record deal for her, and she recorded two tracks with Benny Goodman. She soon began to record under her own name, collaborating with great artists of the swing era including Lester Young and Roy Eldridge. With pianist Teddy Wilson, she manipulated the melodies of dull pop songs for jukeboxes, adding emotive phrasing that was to influence the future of jazz, and she courageously recorded “Strange Fruit” with Commodore records when Columbia rejected the sensitive subject matter. Though her career was strained by substance abuse and heartbreak, her voice did not deteriorate. As she inscribed the catastrophes of her life on the texture of her voice, it became only more powerful, more haunting. On April 7th, we all should examine the life of this great, near-mythic artist, but most importantly, we should listen to her voice.