© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Classical 101

Lady Day at 100

Billie Holiday

Diana Ross's first post-Supremes foray was a film called Lady Sings the Blues. The diva of Motown morphed into Billy Holiday, complete with that lady's birth in her grandmother's whorehouse, to seemingly endless busts for dope, to headlining at Carnegie Hall.

For several generations Diana Ross was Billie Holiday. In face, back in 1972 Ross was more celebrated than Holiday had been since her death in 1959.

So it was a bit of a shock when after years of listening to silky Diana singing Strange Fruit, Lady Sings the Blues and the great Good Morning Heartache, I heard the real Billie Holiday. Diana was smooth and beautiful. Billie was something else.


You can't make up this voice. No amount of editing, mixing, no digital magic will ever make this voice anything but a sandpaper cry. Like many great singers, Billie isn't singing to you. She doesn't care any of us are listening. She's telling a story, and its her story.

The guy dumped her. The stars shined for her. She sang the blues because she couldn't do anything else. This is the classic example of singing what can't be said.

Today is Billie Holiday's 100th birthday. She was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 and she died in New York, a celebrity, broke and drug addicted at 44-years old. I doubt she expected to last as long as she did. It's hard being the voice of truth. It's easy to burn out.

Diana Ross is wonderful. Billie Holiday is something else.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.