April 7, 2015

Thank you, Billie Holiday. Celebrating 100 Years!

Billie Hoilday

Spring has sprung on the East Coast, bringing with it warmer temperatures and a slightly dreary drizzling rain.

This, to me, is the perfect Billie Holiday music.

She would’ve been 100 today, and I’ve found myself thinking about her quite a bit lately, marveling at the alchemical wizardry she executed by turning her tumultuous and sometimes tragic life into some of the most emotionally present music we have today.

Billie wasn’t scared to feel, to face down emotions that were not pretty, draw attention to subject matters that Americans wanted to hide from or to sing publicly of longing in a way most people only can only presence privately, and even then, perhaps not fully.

She had the gift of writing about heartache in a way that captured the is-ness of it, the way that hurt happens—and it is what it is.

She taught us how to be with our feelings without trying to push them away, but also swinging toward glamorization.

In some ways, given the addictions she struggled with, she helped us to do something she couldn’t achieve herself—but perhaps we all teach what we need to learn.

Take a listen to Good Morning Heartache and see if it doesn’t put you in touch with some unacknowledged pain in your heart, inviting you to sit down and be with that emotion, not avoiding it—just sitting with it as you would a friend on a bench.

In 1939 Billie Holiday performed Strange Fruit, in protest of racism in America.

Perhaps I was not alone in hearing this song in my mind as images of American protesting the shooting and killing of unarmed black men shot crossed my television screen.

When I researched the song, I admit I was surprised to find it wasn’t written by Ms. Holiday, but that she lent her voice to the singing of a poem written a New Yorker named Abel Meeropol, who, upon seeing a photo of a lynching, expressed his response through poetry he then set to music, which subsequently made its way to Ms. Holiday.

This unlikely collaboration reminded me of the collaborative efforts of thousands of people of different races and ethnicities who have since banded together to express how fed up they are with police brutality and to call for change.

As easily as Ms. Holiday’s music shined a light on dark places, there was a sexy playfulness about her music as well.

It’s almost impossible to listen to What a Little Moonlight can do without some part of your body starting to move, without feeling lit up and like you might want to go find the one you love to see what kind of trouble you two can get into together.

So thank you, Billie, for taking us through the full range of human experience, for taking the hardships that you faced and using it to liberate your voice and make beautiful music for all of us.

Happy 100th birthday.


Relephant Reads:

Why I want to Delete Half of my Facebook Friends during a National Crisis.


Author: Nicole Taylor

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: wikimedia


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Nicole Taylor