Tag Archives: Billie Holiday

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.

international-sweethearts-of-rhythm-e1425870519326

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.

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 PRI studio musicians, and the rich and famous.

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.

READ MORE

Billie Holiday Inducted into Philadelphia Walk of Fame

Billie Holiday was born in West Philly 100 years ago. This morning, her star will be reborn as Lady Day is inducted into the Philadelphia Walk of Fame.

I am proud to have played a role in making this happen.

Billie Holiday Joins Walk of Fame

For me, it was personal. After a failed romance when I was in law school, I started my day by playing “Good Morning Heartache.” My best friend would ask me, “Why are you always listening to that junkie?” I ignored him. We now know Lady Day was an early victim of racial profiling.

Billie helped me get through a rough patch. It will be my pleasure to help keep her bronze plaque clean.

UPDATE: Billie Holiday’s Walk of Fame plaque unveiled. It’s located in front of the Kimmel Center.

Billie Holiday - Walk of Fame Plaque - 10.26.15