Billie Holiday was a legendary American jazz singer, songwriter and actress. She was born as Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 to Sarah Julia Fagan and Clarence Holiday. Her parents were neither married, nor living together and Clarence left the family when Billie was just a child. Her mother moved to Baltimore after being kicked out of her parents’ home for being pregnant. Billie went to live with her aunt and had a very difficult childhood. At the age of 9, Holiday was brought before the juvenile court for skipping school, and then sent to Catholic reform school where she was baptized. By the age of 11, she had dropped out of school. At the age of 11, she was raped by her neighbor who was discovered in the act by her mother. The neighbor was arrested and Holiday was placed at the House of the Good Shepherd under protective custody. During this time, she started listening to jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
Before the age of 14, Holiday had started working as a prostitute with her mother but the brothel where they worked was raided and both mother and daughter were sent to prison. She was released from prison in October 1929 after which she began her career as a singer. She made appearances at several clubs in Harlem such as Grey Dawn, Pod’s and Jerry’s and the Brooklyn Elks’ Club. Despite her lack of professional training, Billie soon became an active member of the local Harlem jazz scene. She raspy, honest voice became her signature style and attracted several producers including John Hammond, who appreciated her talent and helped her to meet Benny Goodman, with whom she collaborated on several tracks such as “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch”.
Holiday got her first record deal at the age of 18. Her first hits came in 1935 with records such as “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You”. In 1936, she began working with a saxophonist Lester Young with whom she developed a deep friendship. She was nicknamed “Lady Day” by him and she later joined the Count Basie