Billie “Lady Day” Holiday was born in April 1915 and died a short forty-four years later. In that time, Holiday changed the face of jazz music, writing and performing songs that would become part of the history of the genre, including “Lover Man” and “God Bless the Child”. Her “Strange Fruit”, a protest song about the lynching of Black men all across the American South, would become one of the most famous songs of its era. Since her death from cirrhosis of the liver, she has been lauded by all manner of greats, including Ray Ellis and venerable music critic Robert Christgau. Even before her death, Frank Sinatra would say of her:
With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.
—Clarke, Donald: Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon
All reflection on Billie Holiday tells the story of a life cut short by addiction, and a career of unknown potential snuffed out too soon. So, too, will the 2014 production of Lanie Robertson’s 1986 play in the upcoming revival of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, which will feature Audra McDonald as Holiday.