We'll Always Love Billie Holiday
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because every time you start thinking you’re badass, think again.
By Melanie Ruiz and Eugene S. Robinson
The swirling turmoil that ushered Billie Holiday, née Eleanora Fagan, into existence was more than enough to fill several songbooks: She was abandoned as a child, almost raped at 11, and jailed at 14. And this chaotic experience of early 20th-century America resolved itself in her otherworldly, utterly unique style of interpreting songs.
Sometimes heart-wrenching and other times downright ebullient, the way Billie Holiday sang may not have always been technically precise, yet it was always evocatively, emotionally on the mark. The songs were companion pieces to a life that ended too soon, at 44; a life full of the upset she was born into and which, to a certain degree, she courted, through her addictions to heroin and bad men.
Yes — rock ’n’ roll well before rock ’n’ roll.
Which partially explains the whys and wherefores of our tribute to her. Partially, because how can you ever adequately praise the sounds that strike you as so genuine that they seem to become voices in your head? The voices that say “Don’t Explain” or “I’m a Fool to Love You” or half a dozen other examples of Holiday singing, attempting to make sense of it all.
How to complete such a tribute? We have no earthly idea, but as the hundredth anniversary of her birth approaches, our attempts to find out begin right about here.
- Melanie Ruiz, Melanie Ruiz is a mathematician turned yoga teacher turned documentarian. She grew up in Denver and survived four winters in Madison, Wisconsin, before moving to San Francisco. She's a big fan of animals, and her favorite stories are profiles and those with a scientific bent. Follow Melanie Ruiz on TwitterContact Melanie Ruiz|
- Eugene S. Robinson, Editor-at-Large Follow Eugene S. Robinson on Twitter Follow Eugene S. Robinson on FacebookContact Eugene S. Robinson