Choosing a favorite Billie Holiday song is next to impossible. Anything with Billie and Lester Young: “Without Your Love” and “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” from 1937 are great examples of their special musical connection. “I Wished on the Moon,” “Good Morning Heartache,” and “Lover Man” are all personal favorites. And, as painful as it is to listen to or watch, her 1957 performance of “Fine and Mellow” for The Sound of Jazz TV program around two years before her death has incredible historical significance since it brought together many of the most important saxophonists in jazz. But it is the one 12-bar chorus of Lester Young’s on that date, and Billie’s reaction to it, that makes this an amazing gem.
—Michael Formanek, jazz bassist/composer
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Celebrating 100 years of a jazz legend.
Music Memories Local Baltimore jazz musicians share their favorite Billie songs.
“Remember” Why? Because a haunting lyric and melody are given even more poignancy by her performance.
—Jack Everly, BSO SuperPops conductor
“Strange Fruit” because of her brilliant, understated delivery of a painful subject; and the bravery it took for her to sing it during the time it was recorded.
—Lea Gilmore, jazz and blues vocalist
“God Bless the Child” I chose this for one of my songs in the 2000 Billie Holiday Vocal Competition, and I did so because it represented a very big change in my life between 1998-2000, from being unhappy, troubled, and broke to turning things around, having a great job, buying my own house, and finally finding personal happiness. My parents had always worried about me up until that point, and this was my message to them that they could finally stop worrying about me.
—Marianne Matheny-Katz, jazz vocalist
“I’m a Fool to Want You” I was so young when I heard Billie’s rendition, yet I could feel for the woman I imagined sitting on her living room sofa, staring across the room at a man she’d settled for. She has a way of owning the pain associated with the words in this song that anyone who has ever felt true heartache can relate to.
—Delandria Mills, flutist, vocalist, and music teacher
Just a few blocks from my house in Sandtown-Winchester is an 15-foot statue of Billie Holiday on historic Pennsylvania Avenue, once the heart of Baltimore’s arts and culture scene. Holiday’s statue captures her mid-song and seems to beam out memories of grander days for our community. Whenever I pass by the statue, I think of her singing Duke Ellington’s great song, “In My Solitude”. Her version is a delicate rendering, but one that held a profound inner strength and beauty.
—Todd Marcus, jazz bass clarinetist, composer, and arranger