Billie Holiday, God Bless The Child and Strange Fruit

Best known as arguably the greates  singer of  jazz standards ever (even Sinatra thought so) Billie Holiday gets too little propers as a songwriter.  She only wrote a few but even if she'd only written one, "God Bless The Child" is enough to put her in the pantheon.  It expresses a unique perspective about achievement and family that I don't think any other writer has tackled..  Check it out, done by the Lady herself...

Rich relations give crust of bread and such, you can help yourself, but don't take too much...There's some great writing, both melodically and lyrically in this excellent song.

And then of course there's Strange Fruit, a song Billie did NOT write nor help arrange, despite biographical info to the contrary.  This devestating poem about a lynching was in fact written by Abel Meeropol, a New York Jew who is also notable for having adopted the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after they're parents were executed for espionage.

What Billie Holiday did do was own this song, and sing it and sing it year after year, forcing herself and her audiences to confront its realities.  Her sidemen said it tore her heart out every time she did it, but she kept doing it.  Must have meant a lot to her.  Here she is in some rare footage...


By the way, here's something I learned in my research for this feature that I never knew before.  It's well known that Billie Holiday was arrested and convicted on drug charges, and spent nearly two years in prison, during which time she did not sing a note.  I always found that story terribly sad.  Here's a capper for it.

On May 31, 1959, Billie Holiday was taken to Metropolitan Hospital in New York suffering from liver and heart disease. Police officers were stationed at the door to her room. She was arrested for drug possession as she lay dying and her hospital room was raided by authorities. Holiday remained under police guard at the hospital until she died from cirrhosis of the liver on July 17, 1959. In the final years of her life, she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings, and she died with $0.70 in the bank and $750 (a tabloid fee) on her person.

The greatest jazz singer of all time...