Welcome to Basin St. to Birdland!

by mikeconklinmusic



Billie Holiday, as we heard from yesterday’s post, was known for having a unique delivery, an inimitable sense of swing, and a limited vocal range.

Several books, including her “autobiography,” Lady Sings the Blues document her life. Although this book is considered to largely fiction and exclusively written by William Dufty (and by some accounts, Holiday had never read the book!), it is an interesting read. Other books have followed, including Stuart Nicholson’s, Billie Holiday, and Americanist/scholar, Farah Jasmine Griffin’s, If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery.

I think the most important way to get into the heart and soul of Holiday is to embrace her music. For newer listeners, understand that the beauty of her performances is not in the quality of her voice, but in the way she transcends her vocal limitations to create personal, profound artistic statements.

Her musical career started in earnest in 1933 when she was discovered by record producer and writer, John Hammond. He convinced one of his up-and-coming stars, Benny Goodman to make a recording with Holiday. And so it goes:

Your Mother’s Son-in-Law

Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (featuring Billie Holiday)

Columbia Records 2856-D

November 27, 1933; New York City, NY

Here’s the line-up:

Charlie Teagarden, trumpet / Shirley Clay, trumpet / Jack Teagarden, trombone / Benny Goodman, clarinet / Art Karle, tenor sax / Joe Sullivan, piano / Dick McDonough, guitar / Artie Bernstein, bass / Gene Krupa, drums / Arthur Schutt arranger / Billie Holiday, vocals.

Holiday’s early years were spent largely as what some may consider a “girl” singer — fronting big bands such as those of Goodman and Basie and performing up-tempo numbers such as the fox-trot, Your Mother’s Son-in-Law.

In 1935 Holiday’s career got a big push when she recorded four sides that went on to become hits, including What a Little Moonlight Can Do and Miss Brown to You. She would ultimately land a gig at the black-and-tan club, Cafe Society, where her closing number for each set was the devastatingly poignant protest song, Strange Fruit (1939):

Let that sit in for a while…