The great “Lady Day”, was born Eleanor Gough in Baltimore, MD on April 7, 1915.
The future "Lady Day" first heard the music of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith on a Victrola at Alice Dean's, the Baltimore "house of ill repute" where she ran errands and scrubbed floors as a young girl. She made her singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs (borrowing her professional name from screen star Billie Dove).
In 1933 she met jazz critic and talent scout John Hammond who introduced her to Benny Goodman. It was with Goodman that she had her first recording session. In 1935 she teamed with the Teddy Wilson orchestra and later with Count Basie and Artie Shaw.
From 1933 through 1944, Holiday recorded over 200 songs including the top ten hits “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, “Twenty-Four Hours a Day”, “If You were Mine”, “These Foolish Things”, “No Regrets”, “A Fine Romance”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “Who Loves You?”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, “Pennies from Heaven” (#3, 1937), “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”, “This Year’s Kisses”, “The Mood That I’m In”, “Carelessly” (#1, 1937), “Mean to Me”, “A Sailboat in the Moonlight”, “Getting Some Fun Out of Life” and “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart” (#2, 1938).
In 1939 she co-wrote and recorded the jazz classic “Strange Fruite.” At the time of its release, the song was banned by radio networks as too controversial, but in the 1970’s was selected for the NARAS (Grammy) Hall of Fame.
Another Holiday penned composition “God Bless the Child” was released in 1941 and has also been inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame.
Billie Holiday died on July 17, 1959 at the age of 44. It is her unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity that made her the outstanding jazz singer of her day and one of American music’s icons. "Singing songs like the 'The Man I Love' or 'Porgy' is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck," she wrote in her autobiography. "I've lived songs like that."