Billie Holiday / Lady Day Art Outsiders Giclee on Canvas by Tennessee Loveless tells the life of a tortured performer who inspired all future jazz singers.
On April 7th, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Billie Holiday was born with the name Eleanora Fagan. She grew to be one of the most influential jazz vocalists in history, but her life was anything but charmed.
Holiday spent her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland, the child of a teenage mother. Billie was raised in the home of a single mother, which was often a struggle. She was often left in the care of other people, and had little male influence. Often unsupervised, Holiday started skipping school, which led to being sent to the House of Good Shepherd, a facility for troubled girls when she was only 9 years old. During her time there, she was sexually assaulted. She was returned to her mother after being there over half a year. Billie always found solace in music. She loved Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, and learned to sing by following along with them on their records.
After she moved to New York with her mother, she began working in a brothel in Harlem, as well as singing in local clubs. It was at that time that she renamed herself Billie after the film star Billie Dove. During this time, she was discovered by John Hammond and given recording work with Benny Goodman. Her unique singing and phrasing style brought her popularity, and in 1935 she appeared with Duke Ellington in the film Symphony in Black. In 1937, just after her friend and famed saxophonist Lester Young gave her the nickname “Lady Day”, she started touring with the Count Basie Orchestra, and the following year with Artie Shaw, who led a white orchestra.
Promoters didn’t support a black lead performer working with a white orchestra, so Holiday left and started working solo at New York’s Cafe Society, where she debuted two of her most famous songs, God Bless the Child and Strange Fruit. The latter song was banned on some radio stations, since it was about lynching of blacks in the South.
Billie’s relationships were often destructive, and several of her partners were responsible for getting her into hard drugs. James Monroe smoked opium, and she picked up the habit, then Joe Guy introduced her to heroin. The death of her mother only caused an escalation of her drug and alcohol abuse.
Her addiction and hard living resulted in her arrest and conviction of narcotics possession, and she went to prison for a year. Following her release, she had a string of relationships with men who shared her self-destructive tendencies and her love of drugs, but they were also not above taking advantage of her talent. She performed for a number of years without a respite from her drug and alcohol abuse, and gave her final performance on May 25, 1959, at only 44 years old. She was admitted to the hospital shortly after, and died of her addiction.
Though her life was full of struggle, she has been and continues to be an influence on jazz vocalists and musicians, and is discovered by generation after generation of aficionados of great music and performance. She is the ultimate example of speaking heartache and passion through song.
ABOUT TENNESSEE LOVELESS:
Tennessee Loveless is an artist who passionately delves into the subjects that speak to him, and has been increasingly noticed and well-received for doing so, skyrocketing in success and notoriety in only a few years. He’s been tailoring how he expresses his unique voice through a number of passion projects, which fortunately have been embraced by collectors around the world. Though he chooses Chicago as his home, he’s lived and created around the world, including Paris, Berlin, and LA. He started of his career painting drag queens in San Francisco, worked at Disney in licensing and production development, and moved on to become an official Disney interpretive artist. He is now building a variety of unique collections, including his Drag Landscapes and The Art Outsiders, and now the American Flag series. He is severely colorblind, but that hasn’t stopped him. In fact, it has led him to a visual style based in color psychology and layered with meaning. He is grateful knowing what some would see as an impediment has offered him a unique, artistic way of viewing the world. Find him at tennesseeloveless.com and artoutsiders.net, and all his available art for sale at artinsights.com