Happy Birthday Billie Holiday

Maybe 50 years have passed since I first discovered Billie through all those wonderful thrown-together mid-30s Teddy Wilson recordings. Some of those songs had no life at all except through Billie singing them.  Of course she had plenty of help from Teddy, Lester, Benny, Bunny and the like to aid the transformation.

Not everyone was a Billie fan, even in her own time. Fats Waller said, “It sounds like her shoes pinch.”

There was a time that I would gladly have married Billie. I could have helped her straighten out all her problems, led her to a happier life. She would have listened to me. My wife does not agree: “I never in my life heard anything so stupid,” she said.

It’s usually a bad idea for young singers to try to sing like Billie. Learn from her yes, but mimic the style? It inevitably comes out stilted. One of the best Billie influenced vocalists to my ear, was Peggy Lee, who took the best of Billie’s teachings and swung in her own direction.

One misgiving I have about Billie and her legend (and I guess this would have to apply to Ella Fitzgerald’s too), is that it has eclipsed so many other fine singers of the period. Mildred Bailey, for instance,; Lee Wiley; Maxine Sullivan; Ethel Waters. Such an era of fine voices and such a range of expression! Listen sometime, see if you agree.

Please, share!