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born 1915

Billie Holiday always knew she could sing. But, she didn't know she could make a living from it until she had to. The Harlem teen was looking for any way to put food on the table when her fresh take on an old standard caught a club owner's attention. Soon, Lady Day's signature blues style transformed the music industry as she swung and improvised her way through classic + self-penned tunes.

Billie was famous for bending melodies to express feelings...giving songs an emotional depth that hinted at real-life hardships. In spite of overcoming a hardscrabble youth to become a jazz superstar, her career was no cakewalk. She faced discrimination + exploitation, struggled with abuse + addiction. Billie's swan song came too soon, but she remains one of music's most original + influential voices.

bio bits

her quotes

all quotes by Billie Holiday (17)

"I ain’t good-looking and my hair ain’t curled, but my mother, she gave me something that’s gonna tear me through this world."

Billie's Blues {aka I Love My Man} | july 1936

"I love my man—I’m a liar if I say I don’t. But I’ll quit my man—I’m a liar if I say I won’t."

Billie's Blues {aka I Love My Man} | july 1936

"Love is just like the faucet: it turns off and on."

Fine and Mellow | april 1939

"I don’t think I’m singing. I feel like I am playing a horn. I try to improvise like Les Young, like Louie Armstrong, or someone else I admire. What comes out is what I feel."

I'll Never Sing with a Dance Band Again | november 1939

"I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That’s all I know."

I'll Never Sing with a Dance Band Again | november 1939

"I always knew I could sing because I always did sing. But I never knew I could make any money out of it until I just had to."

radio interview | january 1940

"Money, you’ve got lots of friends crowding round the door. When you’re gone, spending ends. They don’t come no more."

God Bless the Child | may 1941

"Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose. So the Bible said and it still is news. Mama may have, Papa may have, but God bless the child that’s got his own."

God Bless the Child | may 1941

"The strong gets more while the weak ones fade. Empty pockets don’t ever make the grade."

God Bless the Child | may 1941

"You know that I love you and that love endures. All my thoughts are of you, for I’m so completely yours."

Don't Explain | november 1944

"To dream my dream could be my mistake, but I’d rather be wrong and sleep right along than wake."

Somebody's On My Mind | january 1950

"The things that I sing have to have something to do with me and my life and my friends’s lives . . . The things they write today—nothing’s happening. I can’t feel it!"

Billie Holiday | january 1952

"There’s really nothing happening with the tunes today—you just can’t get into them, you can’t feel them."

Billie Holiday | january 1952

"I’ve been down so long that down don’t worry me."

Stormy Blues | september 1954

"You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation."

Lady Sings the Blues | january 1956

"I've been told that nobody sings the word 'hunger' like I do. Or the word 'love.'"

Lady Sings the Blues | january 1956

"Dope never helped anybody sing better or play music better or do anything better. All dope can do for you is kill you—and kill you the long slow hard way."

Lady Sings the Blues | january 1956
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curated with care by Alicia Williamson & Angela Willard {april 2015}