Billie Holiday was the daughter of Clarence Holiday. Her early life is obscure, as the account given in her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, is self-serving and inaccurate. Her father abandoned the family early and refused to acknowledge his daughter until after her first success. At some point in her childhood, her mother moved to New York, leaving her in the care of her relatives who, according to Holiday, mistreated her. She did menial work, had little schooling, and in 1928 went to New York to join her mother.
At some point after 1930, she began singing at a small club in Brooklyn, and in a year or so moved to Pods’ and Jerry’s, a Harlem club well known to jazz enthusiasts. In 1933, she was working in another Harlem club, Monette’s, where she was discovered by the producer and talent scout John Hammond. Hammond immediately arranged three recording sessions for her with Benny Goodman and found engagements for her in New York clubs. In 1935, he began recording her regularly, usually under the direction of Teddy Wilson, with studio bands that included many of the finest jazz musicians of the day. These recordings, made between 1935 and 1942, constitute a major body of jazz music; many include work by Lester Young, with whom Holiday had particular empathy. Though aimed mainly at the black jukebox audience, the recordings caught the attention of musicians throughout America and soon other singers were working in Holiday’s light, rhythmic manner.
InStyle~“In honor of what would have been Holiday’s 100th birthday, we’re taking a look back at the singer’s most unforgettable songs:”
The Guardian~“Billie Holiday’s centenary: a life in pictures”
SFGate~“Billie Holiday at 100: Artists reflect on jazz singer’s legacy”