Category Archives: Blog

Douglass Hotel

In Jimmy Heath’s autobiography “I Walked with Giants,” drummer Roy Haynes recounted:

I met Jimmy around 1946 when I was with Luis Russell and we played the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. A lot of the big bands would come through the Earle. We stayed at the Douglas Hotel, which was in South Philly. That was the hotel where a lot of the big black bands stayed.

Douglass Hotel Guests

The building is still there. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday lived there when she was in town.

Douglass Hotel

The Douglass Hotel, now renamed 1409 Hotel, was not just a place to lay one’s head. The legendary Showboat was located in the basement.

After the Showboat, the space became the Bijou Café. Grover Washington, Jr. recorded live from the Bijou Café in 1977.

The basement of 1409 Lombard Street was a magical space.

Billie Holiday@100

Today is the centennial of the birth of Billie Holiday. Contrary to popular belief, she was not born in Baltimore. Lady Day was born on April 7, 1915 at Philadelphia General Hospital.

The misapprehension about Holiday’s place of birth may account for why she hasn’t been inducted into the Walk of Fame. Despite her arrests and conviction in Philadelphia, she had love for her hometown. It was, after all, the place where she could work in the nightclubs. After her conviction, she lost her New York City cabaret card and could not work in places where alcohol was sold. So she could perform at a sold-out Carnegie Hall, but couldn’t get a gig at a hole-in-the-wall in Harlem.

Parenthetically, Holiday was inducted into the Apollo Theater’s Walk of Fame yesterday.

Yes, there’s a historical marker noting that when Lady Day was in town, she often lived at the Douglass Hotel.

Billie Holiday Historical Marker

Holiday is depicted in the Women of Jazz mural in Strawberry Mansion. But the mural is scheduled to be demolished by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Women of Jazz Mural Collage - 4.5.15

The Walk of Fame plaque is the highest honor Philadelphia bestows on a musician:

The Music Alliance is best known for the Walk of Fame along Broad Street’s Avenue of the Arts. This series of over 100 bronze commemorative plaques honors Philadelphia area musicians and music professionals who have made a significant contribution to the world of music. The Walk of Fame is the City’s most impressive public monument to the people who have made Philadelphia a great music city.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. So I nominated Billie Holiday for induction into the Walk of Fame.

Billie Holiday - PMA

Happy birthday, Lady Day. We love you more than you’ll ever know.

UPDATE: The Philadelphia Music Alliance announced that “as a special birthday gift,” Billie Holiday is the newest inductee into the Walk of Fame. In a statement, Chairman Alan Rubens said:

The Philadelphia Music Alliance wanted to present what we think is a ‘perfect’ birthday gift to an extraordinary vocalist, Billie Holiday, and announce her induction on her 100th birthday. It will be an absolute pleasure to be able to walk down Broad Street and see her name where it rightfully belongs, on the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame, with other homegrown jazz giants like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, and Grover Washington, Jr.

Again, it’s never too late to do the right thing.

Bessie Smith: HBO Films

Written and directed by Dee Rees, “Bessie” follows the life and times of legendary “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith (played by Queen Latifah).”Bessie” also stars Mo’Nique, Khandi Alexander, Charles S. Dutton, Mike Epps and Tika Sumpter.

The biopic will premiere on HBO on Saturday, May 16, 2015. For more info, visit BessietheMovie.com.

Remembering Billie Holiday, For Real

At today’s kickoff of Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month, it was music to my ears when Mayor Michael A. Nutter mentioned a news article about Billie Holiday in which I was quoted. I noted that Lady Day does not have a plaque on the Walk of Fame.

The Mayor is on it. He plans to talk with the Philadelphia Music Alliance, the nonprofit organization that’s responsible for the Walk of Fame. PMA touts that it is “Philadelphia’s largest and most important single monument honoring outstanding contributions to this city’s rich and diverse musical heritage.”

 

After the press conference, I introduced myself to Nutter. He immediately said we should work together to make sure Lady Day takes her rightful place among the jazz legends on the Avenue of the Arts.

Walk of Fame Plaques - Overview

I don’t think PMA needs to explain why Holiday does not have a plaque on the Walk of Fame. The nomination process seems to be straightforward. So while I don’t think any slight is intended, the oversight should be corrected as soon as possible.

For more info, contact All That Philly Jazz.

In Philadelphia, Jazz Lives

The 5th Annual Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month celebration is underway.

Jazz Lives - McCoy Tyner

The 2015 Philadelphia Jazz Honoree is West Philly native McCoy Tyner, a four-time Grammy winner and NEA Jazz Master. Mayor Michael A. Nutter gave Tyner an inscribed Liberty Bell, the equivalent of the keys to the city.

McCoy Tyner - 4.1.15

Tyner said his Philly roots are deep:

It’s wonderful to be back home in Philadelphia. I would like to thank the Mayor and the people of this great city for making this possible for me. No matter where I am in the world, Philadelphia always has a special place in my heart.

For information about Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month events, visit www.creativephl.org/jazz.

Jazz Appreciation Month 2015

Since 2002, April has been designated Jazz Appreciation Month. This year’s celebration was kicked off with a big bang. The Smithsonian announced the LeRoy Neiman Foundation donated $2.5 million towards the expansion of jazz programming.

The foundation also donated “Big Band,” a painting by LeRoy Neiman.

Leroy Neiman Big Band

Neiman considered the painting “one of the greatest in his career.” Four of the 18 iconic jazz musicians have been inducted into the Philadelphia Walk of Fame  – John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Gerry Mulligan.

The painting is now on display at the National Museum of American History.

Women in Jazz: Pearl Bailey

As Women in Jazz Month winds down, I want to salute Pearl Bailey who began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia. She lived in this house which is located just a few blocks from North Philly’s famed “Golden Strip.”

Pearl Bailey House

In 1946, Bailey made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman, a musical written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer.