Billie Holiday was a jazz musician and singer-songwriter from the 1920s through the 1950s.
What did She do?
Billie Holiday's vocal style pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo in jazz singing. She sounded as if she were not singing to an audience, but conversing with them, telling them secrets that only she could tell. She was among the first singers to use a microphone, a new tool that would allow a singer to literally whisper and still be heard one moment, then belt out and be powerful the next. She explored this new tool and used it to its full advantage.
Holiday made popular the song “Summertime” from the musical Porgy and Bess before dabbling with activism by singing the song “Strange Fruit” at nearly every show. The song was a commentary on the prevalence of lynchings of Black men in the American South and was based on a poem by Abel Meerpool (aka. Lewis Allen).
Why does She matter?
Artists from Frank Sinatra to Nina Simone, Ray Charles to Erykah Badu were all influenced by Billie Holiday's musical stylings and by her choice to use her fame as a platform for change. Every musician we hear today uses a microphone, using some or all of the techniques pioneered by Holiday. The next time you hear your favorite song, thank her for leading the way.
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