Example research essay topic: Billie Holiday’s Path To Become A Legendary Jazz Singer – 1,684 words

Billie Holiday was one of the most famous jazz
singers of the 20th century. Billie Holidays
innovative phrasing about her life experiences in
her music makes her one of the most influential
jazz lyricists of the 20th century. The emotional
intensity that she brought into the words she sang
was always very memorable and sometimes almost
scary; she often lived the words she sang. Billie
Holiday was born Eleanora Harris in Baltimore,
Maryland on April 7, 1915. She did not have a
stable life. Her father Clarence Holiday played
the guitar with Fletcher Henderson and later
abandoned his family.

Sadie (Billies mother) was
not a very good role model either. Nonetheless,
Billie grew up alone, feeling unloved and gaining
a lifelong inferiority complex that led to her
taking risks with her personal life becoming
self-destructive. Before and while Billie was
famous, she had two role models that would help
her achieve her goal of becoming a great recording
artist. These important people were Bessie Smith
and Louis Armstrong. Billie would always tell
people: I always wanted Bessies big sound and Pops
feeling. (Gourse, 25) Bessie Smith was called the
Empress of Blues.

She had a magnificent voice,
sense of drama, clarity of phrasing, and unique
time, which set her apart from the competition.
Louis Armstrong was said to be the greatest jazz
performer ever. He had a raspy voice, and a rich
sound in his trumpet. He ultimately became a jazz
pioneer by taking the spirit of blues and,
improvising on his horn, turning it into something
revolutionary. (Kliment, 44) Billie did something
quite similar except with singing. She was never a
blues singer in her mind. In fact, she hated to be
labeled as one.

She always said, If they have to
give me a label, call me a jazz singer. (Kliment,
57) Because of Billies unique blues-inspired jazz
singing, she was in the spotlight before she knew
it. When John Hammond discovered Billie singing in
one of the Harlem clubs, it was the start of
Billies career. He arranged for her to record a
couple of titles with Benny Goodman in1933. Benny
Goodman was a clarinetist and bandleader. He was
most famous for popularizing swing-style jazz

During the years of 1934-1942 Billie would
make some of the finest recordings of her career.
These recordings included, Billies Blues, Im Gonna
Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key, and Gloomy
Sunday. Some of her best songs were played at the
Apollo Theater, where she began recording with
Teddy Wilson. She also appeared in the film
Symphony in Black with Duke Ellington. This film
made her better known throughout the country. Soon
after she recorded her first album titled Billies
Blues. During this time Billie acquired the name
Lady Day, a name almost universally known for her.
A man named Lester Young gave her the name soon
after they became good friends.

Billie met Lester
at a club as he was performing on his tenor
saxophone. He came from Kansas City in 1936 with
Count Basies big band. Lester and Billie hit it
off right from the start. They became best friends
and they thought and felt alike. As the two grew
closer, they gave each other nicknames. Lester
started calling Sadie (Billies mother) by the
nickname Duchess, and Billie became Lady and Lady

To return the compliment, Billie dubbed him
Prez-the President of the Tenor Saxophone.
(Gourse, 39) Lady Day was famous for many of her
terrific songs, but none stood out except for the
picturesque song Strange Fruit. This song was a
strong anti-racism statement that became a
permanent part of her reputation. Because she was
African American, wherever she would go there
would always be someone who would act prejudice
and make her feel like she was nothing. An example
of this was when Billie was on tour. While on the
tour, her and her band stopped at a restaurant to
use the restroom. Billie asked the hostess if she
could use the bathroom and the hostess simply
replies, No.

She asked once more and still the
hostess refused. Billie was annoyed at this and
walked back to try and find it. The hostess chased
her to the back of the restaurant and told her she
could not use the restroom because of her race. So
she went to the bathroom right on the floor and
walked out. This story is just one of the many
racist problems Billie ran into when she
performed. Many of the songs she wrote were about
her life, and race was a huge topic.

Lady Day was
applauded for her many talents and her success in
almost everything she did. But when she sang the
famous song Strange Fruit, the song signaled a
change in direction for Billies music. Because of
the slow, intense way she performed the song, she
was soon thought of as a dramatic singer. This new
style Billie acquired was highly liked by her fans
and she began to sing this way more often. As
Billie became more and more popular, she began to
move around the country a great deal in the early
1940s. She was booked to go back into the Caf
society but failed to show up for any of the

Instead she opted to sing in New York on
West Fifty-Second Street, for her it just felt
like home. On this street, there was many jazz
clubs that had opened in the 1930s, but all of
them where designated as whites only. Then Teddy
Wilson and Billie found a job at the club Famous
Door. During this time, Billie was becoming
increasingly disappointed by her inability to
become as commercially successful as she thought
she would be. Soon she would get fired from her
job in New York, and go down the road of
narcotics. Billie was first introduced to opium
and heroin in the early forties by her first
husband James Monroe.

She began her lifelong
struggle with narcotics and an alcohol addiction.
Her husband was the first in a succession of men
who would feed her addiction, squander her
earnings, and physically abuse her. During this
time, Billie was jailed for a year on drug charges
after an amazing trial in 1947. Billie had her
cabaret license taken away and was prohibited from
performing in the clubs and nightspots. Billie was
unable to stay drug-free as long as she remained
involved with the music scene, and James Monroe.
But because she could not give anything up, many
more jail sentences followed. After some time,
Billie was issued a new cabaret license and was
able to perform again. It was one night she
performed when she met a fast-talking, sharp
looking hustler named Louis McKay.

She met him in
a Harlem club called Hot Cha. He heard her singing
and instantly became hooked. Louis came to all of
her performances, and if he were late, she would
cry. After that happened several times, she knew
she was in love with him. So she decided to get a
divorce from James Monroe and one day she would
marry Louis McKay. So just as things began to get
better for Lady Day, she was taken to court on
drug charges.

Billie was released on bail and
entered a drug clinic. Unlike her many other
attempts to overcome her addiction, this time she
did not go off heroin suddenly and completely,
rather she was taken to get tests done, and
medicine was made to make her have lesser
cravings. The medicine Billie was given seemed to
be successful at first, but then she turned to a
new drug, alcohol. Like heroin, it helped her
escape reality. Although alcohol did replace
heroin, for Billie, she was now drinking almost
two full bottles of liqueur each day. Because
Billie was now drinking so much, this put a huge
block in her marriage with Louis McKay.

marriage finally ended in divorce after things
started to get physical. Although Billie had an
alcohol addiction, she still wanted to perform,
and that she did. When Billie Holiday performed in
1948 at Carnegie Hall, she sounded better than
ever. Although the concert was not publicly
announced to many cities, the theater was still
quite crowded. The Carnegie Hall staff had to
place three hundred extra seats on the stage to
accommodate the large audience. When Billie came
out on stage, she looked beautiful; she was
dressed in a floor-length skirt with long black

Billie was very surprised to see so many
people at the performance and on the stage. At
first she thought they belonged to a choir. During
her successful concert at Carnegie Hall, a fan
sent her a bouquet of white gardenias for good
luck. When the intermission was called, she took
the flowers out of the box and fastened some to
her dress and one in her hair. By accident, a
hairpin sticking out of the flower punctured her
head. She was so excited by the cheering audience
that she did not notice how much she was bleeding.
Finally a band member Bobby Tucker yelled to her
and she stopped singing.

(Kliment, 18) Besides
Billies terrific performance at Carnegie Hall, the
hall was also famous for the start of Billies
gardenia tradition. Although she had one accident,
she continued to wear the flowers in her hair till
the end of her career. After Billie had finished
her performance at Carnegie Hall, she knew how
much of an impact she had on peoples lives. There
were so many people at the concert, and as soon as
she walked out onto the stage, she received a
standing ovation unexpectedly. Right then she knew
she had a huge impact on thousands of peoples
lives. Billie sang her heart out and many fans
still say that Carnegie Hall was her best
performance ever.

Lady Day did so much to change
jazz music’s style; she came from poverty to fame,
overcame a drug addiction and still kept going.
Jazz is still around today, but is not as nearly
as popular as it used to be. Many say it just died
with Billie..

Research essay sample on Billie Holidays Path To Become A Legendary Jazz Singer