What I’m Listening To: Billie Holiday

Today is a gray, chilly day in Santa Monica.  I am catching up on work, doing our taxes, and listening to Billie Holiday.

Billie Holiday

Gibson is doing this.

Sleeping dog

Years ago, I received a Billie Holiday box set for Christmas.  I promptly uploaded it onto my computer (all 4 CDs) and completely forgot about it.

But today, the gray sky and the little bit of chill left me wanting something mellow.  And when I opened iTunes and the last thing I had searched for was Beyonce (Super Bowl stories to come!), I saw Billie right below.


Lady Day grew up in Baltimore in the 1920s before moving to be with her mother in Harlem where she discovered the recordings of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.  She never had an easy path in life – hers was scattered with drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and struggles to overcome the racism of the time.

But something about her voice and her delivery of these songs is haunting and wonderful.  It is amazing as a trained singer to listen to her and read that she had absolutely no technical training.  Some people are just born with it.

Lady Day was absolutely born with it.

I think “Strange Fruit” may be the most powerful song I have ever heard.  And I can only imagine the impact and the emotions that it brought up in among the prejudice and hate that was so present in her time.

And then, come on.  Doesn’t this song just make you smile?

And I also love this one.

She’s just so beautiful.  And Louis Armstrong is so fun.  Such amazing talent.  I love the imperfection of the recordings, the live music aspect and the tiny mistakes that give the music personality that you rarely (never) get in today’s music.

Listening to Lady Day’s recordings makes me want to go back to the 1930s, put on a glamorous gown, and drink a martini at a jazz club.  Kind of like I imagine my Grandmother’s life was before the War.  Especially when I find pictures of her like this one:

grandma and the doc

The gloves!  The martini glasses!  That dress!!  She looks so beautiful, so vibrant and so happy.

By the way, that is not my grandfather.  The note on the back says “Irm & The Doc”.

But I’m going to be optimistic and go ahead and assume this was before Grandma ever met Grandpa.  I assume that Grandma and The Doc just didn’t work out.  Even though he had a really nice little ascot/scarf.

Oh how I love old pictures.

But anyway, back to Billie.  I’ve always been a big Ella Fitzgerald fan.  A big Etta James fan.  It’s about time I got more into this beautiful, emotional collection of music.  It’s about time I spent a little more time with Lady Day.

Also, Gibson hasn’t barked once since I turned this compilation on.  If that’s not a reason to keep her on repeat, I don’t know what is.


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