There are so many designations for each month that I can’t keep up anymore. So whatever February means to you…have a happy one.
The topic today, as you can tell from the title, is Love and History.
If you want a woman who can sing about love, about what it can make you do, what it makes you endure, then turn to the one and only Lady Day – Billie Holiday. For those of you who saw the movie and/or read her autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues”, you know her history. For the rest of you who remain ignorant of this icon of American music, then try throwing her name in a search engine; I don’t have the space to adequately describe the width and breadth of this woman’s life to you.
Suffice to say, Lady Day re-interpreted the American Songbook as well as wrenched the gut out of many a blues song with her plaintive distinct voice. An Aries woman (who suffered on and off with heroin addiction) she was headstrong and stubborn, traits that did not sit well with many of the Jim Crow laws and blatant racism that marked her days.
Even with the law not on her side, Lady Day was able to carve out a niche for herself. In addition, she used her position as a musical icon to protest the ills of the day. Her song “Strange Fruit”, about the terrible practice of lynching that continued in the South well into the mid-20th century, was called the Song of the Century by Time magazine in 1999.
But Lady Day knew about love as well as loss. In the song “Fine and Mellow”, one of her own compositions, she describes her tumultuous relationship with her man. “But when he starts in to love me….he is so fine and mellow.”
Relationships, as we all know, aren’t smooth sailing, ever: “Love is like a faucet…it goes off and on,” and sometimes don’t end well: “sometimes when you think it’s on, baby, it has turned off and gone.”
Love can drive us to madness: “love will make you do things….that you know is wrong…”
Frank Sinatra spoke of her in a 1958 Ebony interview:
With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.
The Chairman of the Board has spoken. That’s your love and history lesson for the day.