Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
but spent most of her poverty stricken childhood in Baltimore. Lady Day, as she was named by
Lester Young, had to overcome many tragedies in her lifetime and yet still became one of the
most popular jazz-blues vocalists of all time.
Billie's Parents, Sally Fagan and Clarence Holiday, were both born in Baltimore. They
married as teens and soon Sally gave birth to Eleanora Fagan. Shortly after the birth, Clarence
Holiday deserted his family to tour with Fletcher Henderson's band. Billie saw little of her
immediate family and she essentially grew up alone, feeling unloved and gaining a lifelong
inferiority complex that led to her taking great risks with her personal life. At age ten Billie was
victimized in a violent rape. When older she worked at a brothel were she cleaned the floors, it
was here that she first listened to the likes of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
In 1927 she moved to New York City and not knowing any other life she made a living
prostituting herself. She still kept her dream of someday becoming a singer and eventually
convinced the manager of a small nightclub in the city to let her sing a few songs with the house
band. The crowd loved her singing and she was soon discovered by John Hammond. He arranged
for her to record a couple of titles with Benny Goodman in 1933. Although those were not all
that successful, it was the start of her career.
In 1935 she meet up with a pianist named Teddy Wilson, who was in a pick up band. She
traveled with the band for a while and hit it off. People were beginning to learn about a great
singer who had a fresh new style that was a combination of Louis Armstrong's swinging and
Bessie Smith's sound. Over the next seven years she would go on to record some of the greatest
songs of her career. Lady Day was with Count Basie's Orchestra during much of 1937 but, she
was soon kicked out by Count Basie for trying to be too "independent and temperamental." Later
Lester Young and Buck Clayton began recording with Holiday and the music that the three of
them made was timeless. She worked with Artie Shaw's Orchestra for a time in 1938 but still
some problems existed, only one song was recorded and she had to deal with racism, not only
during a Southern tour but in New York too.
In 1941 she married Johnie Monroe and shortly afterward began abusing drugs. The
marriage with Johnie did not last long and she soon remarried to a trumpeter named Joe Guy.
But even with the new marriage the marital and drug abuse continued. She was given a chance
to be in a movie with one of her early idols, Louis Armstrong in 1946. On top of the being
disgusted at the fact that she was stuck playing a maid, she was again feeling the effects of
racism, but still she could not pass up the chance to work with a great like Armstrong.
Billie Holiday's story from 1950...