Tag Archives: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday’s Philadelphia

Billie Holiday, née Eleanora Fagan, was born on April 7, 1915 at Philadelphia General Hospital. “Looking for Lady Day,” hosted and written by news anchor Tamala Edwards, is a fact-based portrait of the iconic singer who changed the game on and off stage.

All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson leads a walking tour, “Billie Holiday’s Philadelphia.” The tour starts at the Bessie Smith Walk of Fame plaque. During an appearance on “Eddie Condon Floor Show Live” in 1949, Condon remarked, “You’re the best Bessie I’ve seen since Bessie.”

The walking tour ends at the Attucks Hotel (distance: 0.7 miles).

The stops include the Academy of Music, Club Ebony, Billie Holiday Walk of Fame plaque and South Broad Street U.S.O.

We will also stop at hotels where Lady Day stayed, including the hotel where she and her husband, Louis McKay, were arrested. The arrest is depicted in the biopic United States vs. Billie Holiday.

Our next-to-last stop is the Green Book site where Billie Holiday performed four months before her death. Emerson’s Tavern is the setting for the Broadway play, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Audra McDonald won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.

To be added to the mailing list for tour dates, arrange a group tour or schedule a presentation, contact Faye Anderson at phillyjazzapp[@]gmail.com.

United States vs. Billie Holiday

It has been nearly 62 years since Billie Holiday passed away. Hundreds of dissertations, books, films and documentaries later, she is a blank canvas onto which fans and detractors project their hopes, dreams and issues. I see a strong Black woman whose back did not bend.

From an early age, Billie was failed by the institutions that should have protected her. She was racially profiled and harassed by the FBI and hounded by the Philadelphia Police Department. From where Billie sat, the whole of the United States was arrayed her. But still she persisted. She didn’t give a damn what folks thought about her drug abuse, sexuality or string of no-good men.

Billie was a popular club artist and concert artist but she harbored no illusion about her audiences. She famously said, “They come to see me fall on my ass.” While there, she demanded their attention when she sang “Strange Fruit,” the anti-lynching protest song that took a toll on her livelihood and ultimately her life.

The Billie Holiday historical marker at 1409 Lombard Street piqued my interest in investigating her story beyond the marker. One of Billie’s Philadelphia stories is told in the new biopic starring Andra Day and directed by Lee Daniels.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is now streaming on Hulu.

Frank Rizzo (1999-2020)

Former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo was sued by the Justice Department for a pattern of police brutality that shocks the conscience. Rizzo died on July 16, 1991. He was born again eight years later in the form of a 10-foot monument commissioned by Rizzo family and friends.

#FrankRizzo - Still Larger Than Life - Philadelphia Inquirer - December 1998

The Frank L. Rizzo Memorial Committee decided to place the statue in front of the Municipal Services Building. They also decided it would be unveiled on New Year’s Day 1999 after the Mummers Parade, an event best known for clowns prancing around in blackface.

#FrankRizzo - NYT Blackface Clowns

Demonstrators protest ban of blackface in Mummers parade, December 19, 1963

Almost from the moment the hunk-of-junk was unveiled, African Americans and allies peacefully protested for its removal from the gateway to municipal services. Fast forward to 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney said it would be removed by May 2018. Then he said by 2021. Then Kenney said the statue would not be moved before 2022. On May 30, 2020, demonstrators tried to topple it.

#FrankRizzo on Fire

Realizing the jig is up, Kenney said the statue would be removed:

The way its engineered, it’s bolted into the stairs and under the stairs is the concourse where people get their permits and pay their taxes. We didn’t want to tear that up until we did the entire place. We’re going to move it, hopefully in about another month or so. We’re going to accelerate the removal.

The protests accelerated the removal. Rizzo was hauled away three days later. As for the concourse under the stairs, who are we to believe – Kenney or our lying eyes?

Frank Rizzo Down - Concourse - June 3, 2020

Kenney’s lie was compounded by his spokesperson Michael Dunn:

The statue is bolted into the infrastructure of the plaza, which is also the roof of the underground concourse. Removing it while ensuring the integrity of that infrastructure will be a complicated task.

It was such a complicated task the statue was removed under the cover of darkness.

#FrankRizzo - Cover of Darkness

For more on the take down of Frank Rizzo, check out my essay, “The Rizzo reign is finally over. Thank Black Philadelphia.”

In my op-ed, “3 Black Philadelphians whose statues should replace Frank Rizzo” published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I suggested a memorial to Philly native Billie Holiday, who was harassed by then-Police Captain Rizzo, would be poetic justice. In 1939, Lady Day told the world black lives matter.

Women in Jazz Month 2019

March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of women to jazz. As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate women who used music as a platform for social change.

Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-known.

Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not as well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.

Ella Fitzgerald broke down racial barriers. On October 7, 1955, the “First Lady of Song” performed with the Jazz at the Philharmonic in Houston. The concert tour was produced by her manager Norman Granz, an ally in the fight for racial justice. The Music Hall had “Negro” and “White” labels on the bathroom doors. Shortly before the show, Granz removed the labels.

Houston’s segregationists were angry about Granz’s attempt to integrate the show by refusing to pre-sell tickets. Some whites asked for a refund rather than sit next to an African American. After the first show, the police stormed Fitzgerald’s dressing room and arrested her, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and other musicians on trumped-up charges.

Ella Fitgzerald - Arrested - October 1955

With the intervention of her friend, actress Marilyn Monroe, Fitzgerald was the first African American to perform at the legendary Mocambo nightclub.

Ella Fitzgerald - Marilyn Monroe

Nina Simone’s outrage over the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church emboldened civil rights activists.

Simone’s celebration of black excellence inspired a new generation of civil rights activists, including the writer.

Veterans Day 2018

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

November 11 commemorates the armistice agreement Allied powers signed with Germany bringing hostilities to an end on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

In June 1954, Congress passed legislation changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, a day to honor veterans of all wars. On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation.

Just six years earlier, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981 establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. The EO signaled the government’s commitment to integrate the military.

United Service Organizations (USO) policy expressly banned racial discrimination. However, there were separate facilities for African American servicemen in the Jim Crow South and segregated North. In Philadelphia, USO sites for African Americans included Parker Hall and South Broad Street USO. Billie Holiday entertained the soldiers at both locations.

Billie Holiday - South Broad Street USO

Parker Hall was on the top floor of the Parker Building.

Parker Hall - Germantown CDC

The Parker Building is now home to the ACES Museum whose mission is to preserve the history of World War II veterans and restore Parker Hall as a functioning USO for black veterans and their families. The ACES Museum is headquarters of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Black Veterans.

For more information, visit www.acesmuseum.online.

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.

billie-holiday-life-beautiful

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.

READ MORE

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.

Show Boat

The legendary Show Boat was located in the basement of the Douglass Hotel. Pianist Sam Dockery led the house band. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”

Douglass Hotel

Herb Keller owned the Show Boat from 1950 to 1964. Herb Spivak bought the property in 1964 and renamed the jazz spot “Showboat Jazz Theatr” (purposely leaving off the “e”). All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson interviewed Spivak on International Jazz Day 2019.

Herb Spivak - Faye M. Anderson

The Show Boat was compact. 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, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington and Ramsey Lewis.

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