Billie Holiday

Icons of the Century

Billie Holiday came to personify the dark side of the jazz life — a tragic victim of racism, drugs, alcohol, bad relationships and the cutthroat aspects of the music business. She was more than that, of course — a courageous, extraordinarily communicative singer with a unique behind-the-beat way of phrasing, unafraid to take a stand by recording a song as incendiary as “Strange Fruit.”

Yet it is her angst that prevails in the public mind, thanks to recordings that became increasingly despairing and powerful as her voice was ravaged to a shell of its former self. Ultimately she became the touchstone for jazz singers, more famous in death than in life.

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