MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "MOONGLOW"
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
Singer Billie Holiday is without a doubt one of the most influential jazz singers from any era. Her intensely personal and emotionally-charged singing style influenced nearly every singer that followed in her wake. When she died in 1959, tribute albums to “Lady Day” began pouring out, even within a few years after her death. On this episode, we’ll examine those tribute works, hearing some of Billie’s most beloved songs sung by Abbey Lincoln, Tony Bennett, Carmen McRae, and more.
It’s Tributes to the Lady, coming up on Afterglow
MUSIC - CARMEN MCRAE, “YESTERDAYS”
Carmen McRae with Harbach and Kern’s “Yesterdays.” That’s from her 1962 album Carmen McRae sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics.
MUSIC CLIP - ZOOT SIMS, "BODY AND SOUL"
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re taking a look at the many singers who have paid tribute over the years to the legendary Billie Holiday. Holiday, or “Lady Day” as her close friend Lester Young dubbed her, had a profound influence on so many singers. With beautiful and unique phrasing, and a tone that could evoke so much emotion, many singers began to directly emulate her style, including Anita O’Day, Sheila Jordan, and more recently, Madeleine Peyroux.
Anita O’Day in particular was a huge admirer of Billie Holiday. They had met briefly in Chicago in 1951, and evidently, Holiday did not care for O’Day, considering her a white imitator who was taking her gigs. Despite this, O’Day still idolized Holiday, and in 1961, she became the first singer to record a tribute album to Holiday after her untimely death in 1959.
Let’s hear a few tracks from that album now. First up, the title track from that tribute album, a song that Holiday first recorded in 1942. This is Anita O’Day in 1961 with “Trav’lin’ Light,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ANITA O'DAY, "TRAV'LIN' LIGHT"
MUSIC - CHET BAKER, "EASY LIVING"
A few songs from some early tribute albums to Billie Holiday. Just now, we heard Chet Baker in 1965 with “Easy Living,” a track off of his album called Baker’s Holiday. Before that, Anita O’Day with “God Bless The Child,” a song Holiday co-wrote, and “Trav’lin’ Light,” from her 1961 Billie Holiday tribute album titled Trav’lin’ Light.
Anita O’Day’s Trav’lin’ Light may have been the first tribute album for Holiday after her death, but it wasn’t the first ever. In 1959, a few months before Holiday passed away, soul singer Sam Cooke released an LP on the Keen label of Lady Day’s standards called Tribute to the Lady. Cooke might not seem like the most obvious successor to Holiday in terms of vocal or emotive quality. And many critics were quick to fault the pop singer for this. But in a song like “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” Cooke captures Holiday’s lightness, her uncanny ability to have fun with a tune.
Let’s hear that now. Here is Sam Cooke performing one of Billie Holiday’s signature tunes, “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, on Afterglow.
MUSIC - SAM COOKE, "I GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES"
MUSIC - SAM COOKE, "T'AINT NOBODY'S BIZNESS (IF I DO) "
Sam Cooke, performing two songs associated with Billie Holiday. We just heard “T’ain’t Nobody’s Bizness (If I Do),” a song she recorded in 1949, and “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues,” a song she first recorded in 1939. Both of those tracks are off of Sam Cooke’s 1959 album Tribute to the Lady.
Nearly 20 years after Sam Cooke’s Tribute to the Lady , Rosemary Clooney released her own Billie Holiday tribute album called Here’s to My Lady. She was one of many artists who revisited the work of Billie Holiday later on in their career. Let’s take a listen to the first track of that album. This is a song Holiday recorded several times, the first time for the Columbia label in 1941.
This is Rosemary Clooney in 1978 with “I Cover the Waterfront,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ROSEMARY CLOONEY, "I COVER THE WATERFRONT"
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, "ME, MYSELF AND I (ARE ALL IN LOVE WITH YOU) "
Tony Bennett from his 1997 tribute album On Holiday, performing the lighter side of Billie Holiday, with the tune, “Me Myself and I (are all in love with you).” Before that, Rosemary Clooney in 1978 from her album Here’s To My Lady, (retitled Tribute To Billie Holiday several years later), performing the Lady Day classic “I Cover the Waterfront.”
One singer who was often compared to Billie Holiday was Abbey Lincoln. Like Holiday, Lincoln’s singing was equal parts performance and political act: telling us what we needed, and often, did not want to know. In 1987, Abbey Lincoln recorded a two-part live Billie Holiday Tribute album called Abbey sings Billie. Let’s hear a track from it now.
Here’s Abbey Lincoln performing a song that Holiday recorded for Decca in 1949, the Carl Sigman and Bob Russell tune “Crazy He Calls Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ABBEY LINCOLN, “CRAZY HE CALLS ME”
Abbey Lincoln from her live tribute album to Holiday from 1987 performing “Crazy He Calls Me.”
MUSIC CLIP - TEDDY WILSON, "WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO"
We’ll have more tributes to Lady Day, Billie Holiday, after a short break. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - JOHNNY GRIFFIN, "GLOOMY SUNDAY"
MUSIC CLIP - MAL WALDRON, "LEFT ALONE"
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been looking at tribute albums recorded in honor of the legendary singer Billie Holiday. Many instrumentalists also recorded tributes to Billie, including Johnny Griffin, Zoot Sims, and Holiday’s former pianist Mal Waldron, and (who you’re hearing now in the background), but our focus this hour is on the singers.
We’ll kick off this next segment with a track from a Billie Holiday tribute album that won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal album in 2011. In the 1980s, singer and actress Dee Dee Bridgewater starred as Billie Holiday in the one-woman musical Lady Day, based on the ghostwritten autobiography of Holiday’s life Lady Sings the Blues. When a revival of the show was postponed years later, Bridgewater set her sights on a tribute album to Holiday, but an album recorded more in her own voice, rather than Billie’s voice, which she was used to doing on stage.
Here’s Dee Dee Bridgewater, performing “Lady Sings the Blues,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER, "LADY SINGS THE BLUES "
MUSIC - CARMEN MCRAE, "LOVER MAN (OH, WHERE CAN YOU BE?) "
Carmen McRae with Billie Holiday’s classic ballad “Lover Man (Oh Where Can you Be?).” That’s from her 1962 album called, well, Carmen McRae sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics. McRae also recorded a live tribute album to Holiday called For Lady Day two decades later. Before that, Dee Dee Bridgewater with “Lady Sings the Blues,” from her Grammy award winning tribute album from 2011.
Dee Dee Bridgewater’s album To Billie With Love won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal album in 2011. But it wasn’t the first Billie Holiday tribute to win that particular Grammy. In 1995, that honor went to singer Etta James for her album Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday. James’s style is definitely more R&B and soul than jazz, but despite their stylistic differences, they each know how to sell a torch song.
Here is Etta James in 1994, performing a song Billie Holiday first performed in the 1939: Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - ETTA JAMES, “THE MAN I LOVE”
MUSIC - ETTA JONES, “THEM THERE EYES”
Etta Jones, and before that, Etta James, from their respective tribute albums to Billie Holiday. Just now, we heard Etta Jones with one of Holiday’s signature songs, “Them There Eyes.” That comes from the 2001 album Etta Jones Sings Lady Day, which was Jones’s final album, and released on the day she passed away at age 72. Before that, Etta James with “The Man I Love,” from her 1994 Grammy-Award winning album Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.
More tribute albums to Billie Holiday were released in 2015 in honor of the singer’s centennial celebration, including Cassandra Wilson and Jose James. And we’ll close off this show by featuring a fascinating track from one of those records, the album Yesterday I Had the Blues by singer José James.
For our final show this hour, this is a powerful performance from José James performing one of Holiday’s most powerful songs, “Strange Fruit,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOSÉ JAMES, “STRANGE FRUIT”
Jose James with Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” an anti-lynching anthem song written by schoolteacher Abel Meeropol, who went by the pseudonym Lewis Allan. That comes from Jose James’s 2015 album Yesterday I had the Blues: Music of Billie Holiday
MUSIC CLIP - WEBSTER YOUNG, “GOD BLESS THE CHILD “
Thanks for tuning in to this Billie Holiday tribute edition of Afterglow.
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow