Billie Holiday is tied with Ella Fitzgerald for my (and probably many others) favorite female vocalist. What you may not be aware of is that Billie was also a composer who not only wrote this song, but others including God Bless the Child (who’s got his own), Lady Sings the Blues, and (Hush Now) Don’t Explain.
Nicknamed “Lady Day”, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz music and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She was known for her vocal delivery and improvisational skills. She is totally unique and instantly recognizable.
I won’t even begin to get into her tragic childhood and life (for this, see her wikipedia article.) It is an understatement to say that she had a right to sing the blues. One devastating example: Holiday’s New York City Cabaret Card was revoked, preventing her working anywhere that sold alcohol for the last 12 years of her short life. Our loss. Another almost unbelievable example: as she lay dying (at age 44) in the hospital suffering from heart and liver problems, she was arrested and handcuffed for drug possession, her hospital room was raided, and she was placed under police guard.
Incidentally, anyone interested in her life and music should see the movie “Lady Sings the Blues” starring Diana Ross.