Holiday, Billie [Harris, Elinore; Fagan, Eleanora; Lady Day]
- Donald Clarke
[Harris, Elinore; Fagan, Eleanora; Lady Day]
(b Philadelphia, PA, April 7, 1915; d New York, NY, July 17, 1959). American jazz singer. She heard records by Bessie Smith as a child, but Louis Armstrong was her biggest influence. She was one of the first jazz singers and is still widely regarded as the greatest by those who believe that the essence of jazz singing is to make a lyric come alive with personal meaning. She was usually called Eleanora as a child. Her father, Clarence Holiday, played guitar in Fletcher Henderson’s band, but never lived with her; her mother, Sadie, adopted the surname of her father, Charlie Fagan, around 1920, but neither Sadie nor Sadie’s mother had been married. The surname Harris, which appears on Holiday’s birth certificate, came from her mother’s side.
Holiday grew up in the streets of Baltimore. She was locked up twice in the House of Good Shepherd for Colored Girls, once because she was truant from school and again because she had been a victim of statutory rape, but both times mainly because there was no one looking after her. By this time she was already singing in the back rooms of brothels and taverns. She went to New York around ...