In a 1956 interview, Billie Holiday recalled her first recording session, with Benny Goodman’s band in 1933:
“I got there, and I was afraid to sing in the mike…I was scared to death of it.”
The pianist, Buck Washington, leveraged the fact that the two of them were black, while most of the band members were white: “You’re not going to let these people think you’re a square, are you? Come on, sing it!”
When asked what she thinks of that recording now, she replied “I get a big bang out of Your mother’s son-in-law. It sounds like I’m doing comedy—my voice sounds so high and funny!”
This radio interview is transcribed as “The Willis Conover interview” in The Billie Holiday companion: Seven decades of commentary (New York: G. Schirmer. 1997, pp. 62–70).
Today is Holiday’s 100th birthday! Below, that first recording.
The 1972 film Lady sings the blues, starring Diana Ross as the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, merits close analysis as a historical marker.
Sidney J. Furie’s film is a crossover text, created to win the sympathies of both white and African American audiences. In its effort to provide for all possible viewer positions, the film negotiates racial, gender, generational, and political issues.
This according to “Strange fruit?: Lady sings the blues as a crossover film” by Gary Storhoff (Journal of popular film and television XXX/2 [summer 2002] pp. 105–113).
Today is Diana Ross’s 70th birthday! Below, her portrayal of Lady Day.