One of Billie Holiday’s best-known phrases sums up her ending well: “Sometimes, it’s worse to win a battle than to lose it.” The great lady of jazz lost the battle against the Federal Department of Narcotics of the United States, but in that defeat she finished forging her legend as the voice that sang with the most depth and integrity to injustice in a segregationist and paranoid country with success. of a talented, independent, defiant, black woman. The Republican government of Dwight D. Eisenhower ended up winning its fight against Holiday, whom he executed for heroin use, but was portrayed for history as the executioner of a star that has not stopped shining.
The movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday, recently released, now retrieves this part of the biography of Lady Day, nickname given to him by his friend Lester Young, whose intense and emotional sax was the best company for that voice with a strong emotional tear. Died in 1959 from cirrhosis of the liver in a New York hospital at age 44, the singer was in police custody for drug possession. Having worn mink coats and white silk dresses, she barely had a dollar in the bank and passed away broke, ill and alone, though her vocal jazz forever remained an emblem of human pride and dignity.
Many of these episodes are recounted by herself in Lady Sings the Blues, which has ended up becoming a classic of musical memoirs. Like all autobiographies, it does not escape personal adornments and a taste for inflating the battles fought, but, nevertheless, it reflects a good part of the crusade of this singer born in a Baltimore ghetto. “When you are poor you grow up fast,” he wrote. Holiday grew up too fast: abandoned by her parents, she lived with her grandmother, who died in her arms; she went through reformatories, suffered mistreatment, was raped and prostituted herself. All before being of legal age. It was in a brothel that he fell in love with jazz, that sound that many whites labeled “brothel music.” With her cutting chant, Lady Day elevated him to the sublime.
Surrounded by the best conductors of the time, such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson or Count Basie, her big break came when she was hired at the Café Society in New York’s Greenwich Village. From that prestigious room he came out with the aura of a star, among other reasons, for songs like Strange Fruit, the poem that the communist writer Lewis Allen gave him. Holiday made the composition, which dealt with the lynchings of blacks in the south, his “personal protest.” It became the first African-American civil rights protest song in history. Since the 1940s, she liked to close her performances with the theme to raise awareness and because, according to her, it served to distinguish “cretins and idiots” among her audience: they were the ones who applauded at the end of the performance. This woman, consumed by heroin and the pain of being humiliated, was an imposing effigy on stage. And his memory, almost a century later, is too.
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Billie Holiday, a defeat for eternity | The weekly country