TRIBUTE TO A BLUE LADY von & mit Carole Alston
09 Sept - 11 Okt 2006

Why Billie Holiday?

As an African-American female singer/performer I am well aware of the legacy my predecessors have left behind. I take pride in a minute share of this heritage, fully aware of the fact that had it not been for Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, and so many, many others (who paved the way for female jazz vocalists – present and future -) there would be much less appreciation for the genre.

For them it was a daily struggle and we have received a great gift: we can enjoy the fruits of their labors and successes without having to endure the intensity of denial induced by the ignorance of society which they had endured in extent.

Why Billie Holiday? Billie was a complete person, a multi-faceted character who lived-out and experienced every stage possible in a human lifetime, all crammed into 44 years of roller coaster highs and lows, 44 years of living in constant contradiction. The lives of her contemporaries were, in a sense “normal”, if not to say boring, in comparison. She gave the people something to talk about.

After reading the autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues” and the biography “Wishing on the Moon” by Donald Clarke in 1998, I embarked upon an adventure: understanding the myth Billie Holiday, or as she is reverently remembered “Lady Day”. I realized that there was so much more to her than just the voice, the drugs and the scandals. She would have been a perfect case for the psychoanalyst cliché. Her childhood was so disastrous, her make-up so complex, it was clear that she was in a constant state of attempting to overcome and conquer the hardships, setbacks and injustices which befell her. She was always in a defensive position but never put the blame on anyone else. She chose the route of self-destruction – consciously or unconsciously remains a question unanswered. She didn’t have much hope for a future but she desired success. She had dreams as did everyone else and despite the “natural” hindrances (black, female) and the stumbling blocks she lay on her own path (violent men, alcohol and drug abuse) she achieved far more than was expected, far more than she expected of herself.

Should she be pitied? I don’t believe so. Should her life be viewed as an horrific example? Should we analyze and criticize? Rather not, neither would I choose to idolize. I would prefer to recognize, attempt to comprehend and finally to realize it was her life and she chose how she wanted to live it, even if it is far beyond our own understanding.

Closing with the titles of two of her most famous recordings: “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “Please, Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”, I’d say that sums up Lady Day in a nutshell.

Carole Alston