Night Lights Classic Jazz

Ghosts of Yesterday: Billie Holiday and the Two Irenes

An iconic singer, a songwriter (or two) named Irene, lost love and inspiration, and a history-mystery of identity.

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Billie Holiday

Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

Lady Day and friends: a right to sing the blues and write them too.

Irene KitchingsIn 1939 and 1940 Billie Holiday recorded a handful of poignant songs co-written by a good friend of hers, Irene Wilson (later known as Irene Kitchings). Wilson was grieving over the breakup of her marriage to pianist Teddy Wilson, and “Some Other Spring,” in particular, was said to have been inspired by her loss. Before her marriage to Wilson (whom she influenced in many ways, introducing him to classical music and accelerating his development as a piano player), she had worked in Chicago (under the names of Ireme Armstrong and Irene Armstrong Eadie) as the leader of an all-female jazz trio called Three Classy Misses, featuring the unusual instrumentation of piano, violin, and trumpet. After wedding Wilson, however, she ended her career, partly at the behest of her mother-in-law.

In the mid-1940s Billie Holiday recorded two more songs that many jazz sources credit to Irene Wilson/Kitchings as well: “Good Morning Heartache” and “No Good Man.” The songs were listed as being co-written by “Irene Higginbotham,” who had also written “This Will Make You Laugh,” recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1941. Irene Higginbotham, according to these jazz sources, was the same woman who had written “Some Other Spring,” “Ghost of Yesterday,” and two other songs recorded by Billie Holiday for Columbia (including “I’m Pulling Through,” which Diana Krall covered on her 2004 CD The Girl in the Other Room). Were they truly the same person? Irene Armstrong had had several different last names, and “Good Morning Heartache” sounded almost like a sequel to “Some Other Spring.” The answer is revealed in this edition of Night Lights, which includes all of the Irene Wilson/Kitchings and Higginbotham compositions recorded by Billie Holiday, as well as songs that Holiday co-wrote with Arthur Herzog Jr., the man who supplied the lyrics for Irene Wilson’s songs.

Music Heard On This Episode

Miss D.D.
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)
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Miss D.D.
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)

Notes: Opening theme.

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Some Other Spring
Art Tatum — Complete Group Masterpieces (Pablo, 1956)

Notes: Music by Irene Kitchings.

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God Bless the Child
Johnny Griffin — White Gardenia (Riverside, 1961)

Notes: music bed for opening monologue.

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Ghost of Yesterday
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 8 (Columbia, 1940)

Notes: Written by Irene Kitchings and Arthur Herzog Jr.

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Some Other Spring
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 7 (Columbia, 1939)

Notes: Written by Irene Kitchings and Arthur Herzog Jr.

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God Bless the Child
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 9 (Columbia, 1941)

Notes: Written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.

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Don't Explain (first version)
Billie Holiday — Complete Decca Recordings (Decca, 1944)

Notes: Written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.

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Good Morning Heartache
Billie Holiday — Comp. Decca Recordings (Decca, 1944)

Notes: Co-written by Irene Higginbotham

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No Good Man
Billie Holiday — Comp. Decca Recordings (Decca, 1944)

Notes: Co-written by Irene Higginbotham

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Long Gone Blues
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 7 (Columbia, 1939)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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Tell Me More and More and Then Some
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 8 (Columbia, 1940)

Notes: Credited to Billie Holiday. Melody based on

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This Will Make You Laugh
Carmen McRae — Here to Stay (Decca, 1955)

Notes: Written by Irene Higginbotham.

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Are You Livin' Old Man?
Stan Kenton — Comp. Capitol Studio Recordings 1943-47 (Mosaic, 1944)

Notes: Anita O'Dayo on vocals; co-written by Irene Higginbotham.

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What Is This Going to Get Us?
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 8 (Columbia, 1940)

Notes: Written by Irene Kitchings and Arthur Herzog Jr.

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I'm Pulling Through
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 8 (Columbia, 1940)

Notes: Written by Irene Kitchings and Arthur Herzog Jr.

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Night Lights
Gerry Mulligan — Night Lights (Polygram, 1963)

Notes: Closing theme.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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