Tag Archives: Billie Holiday

Women in Jazz Month 2018

March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to jazz. Few – male or female – have contributed more to the jazz canon than Billie Holiday. In the decades since her death, Lady Day has been celebrated in film, song, books, fashion and art.

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ClickitTicket, a resale marketplace, has created a timeline of Billie Holiday’s life, beginning with her birth in Philadelphia in 1915 and ending with her death in a New York City hospital in 1959.

billie-holiday-timeline

An excerpt:

Billie Holiday’s voice was a little thin and somewhat limited. She had no technical training; she couldn’t even read sheet music.

Yet, Holiday is one of the greatest vocalists of all-time.

What she lacked in power and tone, she made up for it with the ability to tell a story and emote. Every song she sang she made her own.

Holiday was a true artist who had a profound impact on both jazz and pop music.

She made a huge impact on countless artists including Frank Sinatra.

“Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years,” explained Ol’ Blue Eyes to Ebony magazine in 1958.

Despite personal demons, abusive romantic relationships, and the specter of racism, Holiday achieved commercial and artistic success during her lifetime.

Since her death in the late 1950s, generations of musicians have turned to her recordings for inspiration and enlightenment.

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Women in Jazz Month

March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to jazz.

As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate the role that women in jazz played in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement. While Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-documented, Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.


I also want to celebrate the pioneering women of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first racially-integrated all-female big band. The 17-piece band was led by vocalist Anna Mae Winburn.

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The Sweethearts were popular in the 1940s. Indeed, they were one of the top swing bands, appearing on radio broadcasts, and touring the U.S. and Europe.

The group disbanded in 1949.

The Showboat

The legendary Showboat was located in the basement of the Douglass Hotel, a favorite hangout of jazz musicians and their fans.

#TBT Showboat - Douglass Hotel

The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”

Douglass Hotel

In 1964, Herb Spivak bought the basement taproom and renamed it the “Showboat Jazz Theatr” (purposely leaving the “e” out). Spivak increased the seating capacity from 100 to 200. The small bandstand was behind the bar. The Showboat played host to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderly, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonius Monk, Dinah Washington and Ramsey Lewis.

On June 17, 1963, John Coltrane recorded “Live at the Showboat” featuring Coltrane (sax) McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

Fantasy Lounge

Located across from Philadelphia International Records, the Fantasy Lounge was a popular hangout for PIR studio musicians, and the rich and famous, including Diana Ross who had .

On Oct. 26, 2015, Billie Holiday’s Walk of Fame plaque was unveiled. It’s located in front of the Kimmel Center, which is in the footprint of the Fantasy Lounge. While at the unveiling, I confirmed the location of the club with legendary DJ Jerry Blavat.

From a 1999 news story reporting on the death of Lauretta Tucker Adams, the owner of the Fantasy Lounge:

Among the most famous of her businesses was the Fantasy Lounge, a supper club at Broad and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, where just about anyone could mingle with famous musicians, politicians and professional athletes. It was the spot where fabulous theater parties were tossed by performing casts, and Diana Ross boogied until the wee hours at a birthday party in her honor, according to a 1985 Daily News story lamenting the lounge’s closing to make room for expansion of the Philadelphia College of Art.

Walk of Fame inductee Kenny Gamble recounted:

She was a role model and mentor to many of us. She promoted us everywhere. She did things because she really cared. She didn’t care about material things, and she would help anybody who really needed help with no strings attached . . . and she was very smart in business.

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