Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Nicknamed "Lady Day" by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday was a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo.
She co-wrote only a few songs, but several of them have become jazz standards, notably "God Bless the Child," "Don't Explain," "Fine and Mellow," and "Lady Sings the Blues." She also became famous for singing "Easy Living," "Good Morning Heartache," and "Strange Fruit", a protest song which became one of her standards and made famous with her 1939 recording.
Billie Holiday began her recording career on a high note with her first major release "Riffin' the Scotch" selling 5,000 copies. The song was released under the band name "Benny Goodman & his Orchestra."
Most of Holiday's early successes were released under the band name "Teddy Wilson & his Orchestra." During her stay in Wilson's band, Holiday would sing a few bars and then other musicians would have a solo. Teddy Wilson, arguably the most influential jazz pianist from the swing era, accompanied Holiday more than any other musician. He and Holiday have 95 recordings together.
In July 1936, Holiday began releasing sides under her own name. These songs were released under the band name "Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra." Most noteworthy, the popular jazz standard "Summertime," sold well and was listed on the available pop charts at the time at number 12, the first time the jazz standard charted under any artist.
Holiday had 16 best selling songs in 1937, making the year her most commercially successful. It was in this year that Holiday scored her sole number one hit as a featured vocalist on the available pop charts of the 1930s, "Carelessly". Holiday's version ranked 6 on the year-end single chart available for 1937.
In 1939, Holiday recorded her biggest selling record, "Strange Fruit" for Commodore, charting at number 16 on the available pop charts for the 1930s.
In 1940, Billboard began publishing its modern pop charts, which included the Best Selling Retail Records chart, the precursor to the Hot 100. None of Holiday's songs placed on the modern pop charts, partly because Billboard only published the first ten slots of the charts in some issues. Minor hits and independent releases had no way of being spotlighted.
"God Bless the Child", which went on to sell over a million copies, ranked number 3 on Billboard's year-end top songs of 1941.
On October 24, 1942, Billboard began issuing its R&B charts. Two of Holiday's songs placed on the chart, "Trav'lin' Light" with Paul Whiteman, which topped the chart, and "Lover Man", which reached number 5.
"Trav'lin' Light" also reached 18 on Billboard's year-end chart.
Billie Holiday was posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have "qualitative or historical significance."