Billy Holliday is one of the tragic cult figures of popular music history. She holds a special rank among the great female jazz vocalists largely because, rather than in spite of, the life she led. Holiday the performer and holiday the ‘colourful’ female are inseparable counterparts. Her records are therefore doubly documentary
they are at once an emotional, autobiographical communication of her personal tragedy and the stuff of uncomfortable but seemingly ingrained myths and legends. With Billie the words meant everything
her whole style was devoted to wrestling every shred of expression from them. Billi often isnsited that Strange Fruit came at theend of a programme for she could sing nothing after it
she was always overwhelmed by the poem of Lewis Allan. It was sad that university professors, political agitators and religious leaders adopted the Milt Gabler Commodore record as a cause celebre. Billie could never understand this – she was never the black Jeanne d’Arc of America. She was quite simply jazz’s greatest vocalist and produced what was described by carlton Brown as: “The most anguished and harrowing expression of protest against man’s inhumanity to a man that has ever been made in the form of vocal jazz.” Billie Holiday died of cirrhosis of the liver on 17th June 1959, aged just 44.