In an interview, Audra McDonald discussed Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille, for which she won the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award in 2014.
“It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly.”
“I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her—and what is fascinating in this show—is that there is never any self-pity. She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music—she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.”
“One wonderful thing for me is there are tons of recordings of Billie that I’ve been listening to and watching, even audio of her talking about certain songs, so I have a lot to draw on.”
Quoted in “Audra McDonald to return to Broadway as Billie Holiday” by Patrick Healey (The New York times 26 February 2014; RILM Abstracts 2014-89300).
Today is McDonald’s 50th birthday! Below, excerpts from her Tony Awards performance.
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.