Glossary entry for
Holiday, Billie

Billie Holiday (1915? - 1959) was born Eleanora Fagan Gough in Baltimore in either 1912 or 1915. Her parents were in their early teens. Her father (Clarence Holiday) left when she was a baby and her mother (Sally Fagan) left the child with relatives. Eleanora ran errands for a brothel in Philadelphia and in 1927 moved to New York, where for the next 3 years she earned a living as a prostitute.

Inspired by her love of singing, she talked the manager of a club into letting her sing a few tunes with the house band - she made $57.00 in tips. She used the name "Billie Holiday" because of her admiration for film star Billie Dove. She was discovered by John Hammond, who organized her first recording session in 1933 with Benny Goodman.

She joined the Count Basie band in 1937 and established a lifelong relationship with Lester Young (Prez). Basie eventually let her go for being too independent and tempermental.

During her second marriage (to trumpeter Joe Guy) she became a heroin addict. Despite her addictions, she sang well and earned as much as $1000/week. In 1947 she was arrested on a drug charge and served 8 months in prison She toured Europe succesfully in 1954 but was arrested again in 1956 and entered a clinic. Her recovery was temporary - her lifestyle claimed her life on July 17, 1959.

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