So much has been written about Billie Holiday's mastery of singing and about her unfortunate, tragic life, that I feel it wiser to discuss chiefly the carefully chosen songs on this page, which, as a group, were the best she ever sang. She has been the subject of a book, countless magazine and newspaper articles and of escriptive material on back covers of most of the albums she recorded. If anything, there has been too much written about her llnesses, her dreadful childhood and her miserable death.
Inimitable singer that she was and poignant her life, as reflected, as reflected in her singing, it nevertheless took superior songs for her to convey her magic to her listeners. The jazz experts and a few others have gone into her sad career with devastating detail, but to the public at large she will be long remembered merely as a great singer of good songs.
And, what were the best of these songs? Most of them are included here: "God Bless' The Child", "Strange Fruit", "Fine And Mellow", "Some Other Spring", "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and others now so closely identified with the name of Billie Holiday.
"God Bless' The Child" which Harry Belafonte described on the back of one of his albums as "the greatest song in the world" when he recorded it, was written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. with whom she often collaborated. Much more than any of the paragraphs written about her, this fantastic song personified the woman herself. Based on an old proverb, it preaches defiance; something so necessary for Billie throughout her life.
"Strange Fruit" and "Fine And Mellow" were coupled on the biggest selling record of her career, although there was such an enormous contrast between them. "Strange Fruit", written first as a poem by Lewis Allan, came into being when there was still lynchings in the south. These have abated, but not the hatred, bigotry and cruelty which is still all too evident. Billie always used it as her last number and would never return to any stage after she finished it.
"Fine And Mellow" on the other hand is a great blues. Here again, however, this is not just a song typical of Tin Pan Alley. It has humor, true, but there is in it also the sense of tragedy which Billie never really lost.
Only one song in this collection is not tied up definitely with Billie Holiday's career. This is "There'll Be Some Changes Made", a very popular number in its own right, written back in the 20's when Billie was a very little girl. In one of her last record albums she sang this hit, which has been performed by almost every great artist in the last 40 years. Here again Billie added her own touch to this very famous song.
Of everything contained in this collection, "Some Other Spring" seems to be the one most rapidly growing into great popularity. It was recorded many years ago by Billie. Only recently has it been appreciated as a hauntingly beautiful melody with very lovely words; one which Billie in her own calm way extracted the last bit of emotion from as no other singer could.
The other songs are perhaps not as well-known, but they have all been identified with Billie and recorded by her in various stages of her astounding career. There is no need to describe them because they sing for themselves.
Lester Young, saxophonist with the old Count Basie orchestra and other various combinations, is generally credited with having named her "Lady Day". Perhaps one reason for this was that it was a contraction of Holiday. Far more important is that fundamentally she was a Lady, as anyone who knew her will affirm.