Billie Holiday & Louis McKay - Panache Report
Billie Holiday (), one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all has had his own issues with substances — describes how Harry Anslinger. Louis McKay and Billie Holiday Louis Mckay, Lady Sings The Blues, . McKay had the reputation of being Billie's drug connection but Hale. Love & relationships In a jam: Billie Holiday during a studio session (Getty) . Her next beau, John Levy, was a violent pimp, while Louis McKay was a hustler whom she Share your thoughts and debate the big issues.
Article Continued Below She screamed and clawed at the man, howling for help, and somebody must have heard, because the police arrived. When they barged in, the officers decided at once what was going on. Billie, they declared, was a whore who had tricked this poor man. She was shut away in a cell for two days. Months later, Wilbert Rich was punished with three months in prison, while Billie was punished with a year in a reform school.
The nuns who ran the walled-in, sealed-off punishment centre looked at the child and concluded she was bad and needed the firm thwack of discipline. When she escaped — out of the convent, and Baltimore — she was determined to find her mother, who was last heard from in Harlem. When she arrived on the bus into a freezing winter, she stumbled to the last address she had been given, only to find it was a brothel. Her mother worked there for a pittance and had no way to keep her.
Before long, Billie was thrown out, and she was so hungry she could barely breathe without it hurting. There was, Billie came to believe, only one solution.
A madam offered her a 50 per cent cut for having sex with strangers. She was 14 years old. Before long, Billie had her own pimp. He was a violent, cursing thug named Louis McKay, who was going to break her ribs and beat her till she bled. He was also — perhaps more crucially — going to meet Harry Anslinger many years later, and work with him. Billie was caught prostituting by the police, and once again, instead of rescuing her from being pimped and raped, they punished her.
She was sent to prison on Welfare Island, and once she got out, she started to seek out the hardest and most head-blasting chemicals she could. At first her favourite was White Lightning, a toxic brew containing proof alcohol, and as she got older, she tried to stun her grief with harder and harder drugs.
One night, a white boy from Dallas called Speck showed her how to inject herself with heroin.
- Singer Billie Holiday was tormented by anti-drug squad
She would still wake in the night screaming, remembering her rape and imprisonment. I am Billie Holiday. One day, starving, she walked a dozen blocks in Harlem, asking in every drinking hole if they had any work for her, and she was rejected everywhere. Desperate, she told the owner maybe she could sing.
He pointed her toward an old piano man in the corner and told her to give him a song. By the time she finished her next song, Body and Soul, there were tears running down their cheeks. She sang a moment behind the beat and lived a moment ahead of it. Another time in another bar, a group of soldiers and sailors started stubbing out their cigarettes on her mink coat.
She handed the mink coat to a friend to hold, picked up a diamond-shaped ashtray, and laid the sailors out flat. Yet when it came to the men in her life, this impulse to defend herself bled away. After her greatest performance at Carnegie Hall, he greeted her by punching her so hard in the face she was sent flying. Harry had heard whispers that this rising black star was using heroin, so he assigned an agent named Jimmy Fletcher to track her every move.
Harry hated to hire black agents, but if he sent white guys into Harlem and Baltimore, they stood out straight away. Jimmy was allowed through the door at the bureau, but never up the stairs. He would carry large amounts of drugs with him, and he was allowed to deal drugs himself so he could gain the confidence of the people he was secretly plotting to arrest.
The next time he saw her, it was in a brothel in Harlem, doing exactly the same. When Jimmy was sent to raid her, he knocked at the door pretending he had a telegram to deliver.
Her biographer Julia Blackburn studied the only remaining interview with Jimmy Fletcher — now lost by the archives handling it — and she wrote about what he remembered in detail. She let him in. But when she found out her friends in the jazz world were using the same drug, she begged them to stop. Never imitate me, she cried. She kept trying to quit. She would get her friends to shut her away in their houses for days on end while she went through withdrawal.
Not long after, he ran into her in a bar and they talked for hours, with her pet Chihuahua, Moochy, by her side. Confronted with a real addict, up close, the hatred fell away. But Anslinger was going to be given a break on Billie, one he got nowhere else in the jazz world. Billie had got used to turning up at gigs so badly beaten by Louis McKay they had to tape up her ribs before pushing her onstage. She was too afraid to go to the police — but finally she was brave enough to cut him off.
When Billie was busted again, she was put on trial. On March 28,Holiday married Louis McKay, a Mafia enforcer, who like most of the men in her life was abusive, but he did try to get her off drugs. Holiday's late recordings on Verve constitute about a third of her commercial recorded legacy and are as popular as her earlier work for the Columbia, Commodore and Decca labels.
In later years, her voice became more fragile, but it never lost the edge that had always made it so distinctive. In early she found out that she had cirrhosis of the liver. The doctor told her to stop drinking, which she did for a short time, but soon returned to heavy drinking. By May she had lost twenty pounds.
Friends Leonard Feather, Joe Glaser, and Allan Morrison tried to get her to check into to a hospital, but she put them off.
She was arrested for drug possession as she lay dying, and her hospital room was raided by authorities. Police officers were stationed at the door to her room. The system lasted until Club owners knew blacklisted performers had limited work and could offer a smaller salary. This reduced Holiday's earnings. She had not received proper record royalties until she joined Decca, so her main revenue was club concerts. The problem worsened when Holiday's records went out of print in the s.
She seldom received royalties in her later years. Her manager, John Levy, was convinced he could get her card back and allowed her to open without one. I was a huge success. Lady Sings the Blues[ edit ] By the s, Holiday's drug abuse, drinking, and relationships with abusive men caused her health to deteriorate.
Her later recordings showed the effects of declining health on her voice, as it grew coarse and no longer projected its former vibrancy. Holiday first toured Europe in as part of a Leonard Feather package. In later years, her voice became more fragile, but it never lost the edge that had always made it distinctive.
Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings the Blueswas ghostwritten by William Dufty and published in Dufty, a New York Post writer and editor then married to Holiday's close friend Maely Dufty, wrote the book quickly from a series of conversations with the singer in the Duftys' 93rd Street apartment.
He also drew on the work of earlier interviewers and intended to let Holiday tell her story in her own way. The Musician and the Myth, John Szwed argued that Lady Sings the Blues is a generally accurate account of her life, and that co-writer Dufty was forced to water down or suppress material by the threat of legal action. According to the reviewer Richard Brody"Szwed traces the stories of two important relationships that are missing from the book—with Charles Laughtonin the s, and with Tallulah Bankheadin the late s—and of one relationship that's sharply diminished in the book, her affair with Orson Welles around the time of Citizen Kane.
The 13 tracks included on this album featured her own songs " I Love My Man ", " Don't Explain " and " Fine and Mellow ", together with other songs closely associated with her, including " Body and Soul ", " My Man ", and "Lady Sings the Blues" her lyrics accompanied a tune by pianist Herbie Nichols. Interspersed among Holiday's songs, Millstein read aloud four lengthy passages from her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. The narration began with the ironic account of her birth in Baltimore — 'Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married.
He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three' — and ended, very nearly shyly, with her hope for love and a long life with 'my man' at her side.
A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: THE LAST DAYS OF BILLIE HOLIDAY
It was evident, even then, that Miss Holiday was ill. I had known her casually over the years and I was shocked at her physical weakness. Her rehearsal had been desultory; her voice sounded tinny and trailed off; her body sagged tiredly. But I will not forget the metamorphosis that night. The lights went down, the musicians began to play and the narration began. Miss Holiday stepped from between the curtains, into the white spotlight awaiting her, wearing a white evening gown and white gardenias in her black hair.
She was erect and beautiful; poised and smiling. And when the first section of narration was ended, she sang — with strength undiminished — with all of the art that was hers. I was very much moved. In the darkness, my face burned and my eyes. I recall only one thing. He wrote of Holiday's performance: Throughout the night, Billie was in superior form to what had sometimes been the case in the last years of her life. Not only was there assurance of phrasing and intonation; but there was also an outgoing warmth, a palpable eagerness to reach and touch the audience.
And there was mocking wit. A smile was often lightly evident on her lips and her eyes as if, for once, she could accept the fact that there were people who did dig her.
The beat flowed in her uniquely sinuous, supple way of moving the story along; the words became her own experiences; and coursing through it all was Lady's sound — a texture simultaneously steel-edged and yet soft inside; a voice that was almost unbearably wise in disillusion and yet still childlike, again at the centre. The audience was hers from before she sang, greeting her and saying good-bye with heavy, loving applause.
And at one time, the musicians too applauded. It was a night when Billie was on top, undeniably the best and most honest jazz singer alive. Both were less than two years from death. Young died in March Holiday wanted to sing at his funeral, but her request was denied.
When Holiday returned to Europe almost five years later, inshe made one of her last television appearances for Granada's Chelsea at Nine in London. Her final studio recordings were made for MGM Records inwith lush backing from Ray Ellis and his Orchestra, who had also accompanied her on the Columbia album Lady in Satin the previous year see below. The MGM sessions were released posthumously on a self-titled album, later retitled and re-released as Last Recording.
McKay, like most of the men in her life, was abusive. Holiday was childless, but she had two godchildren: Although she had initially stopped drinking on her doctor's orders, it was not long before she relapsed. Her manager Joe Glaserjazz critic Leonard Featherphotojournalist Allan Morrison, and the singer's own friends all tried in vain to persuade her to go to a hospital. Anslingerhad been targeting Holiday since at least In her final years, she had been progressively swindled out[ by whom? Her funeral Mass was on July 21,at the Church of St.
Paul the Apostle in Manhattan. She was buried at Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. Gilbert Millstein, of New York Timeswho was the announcer at Holiday's Carnegie Hall concerts and wrote parts of the sleeve notes for the album The Essential Billie Holiday see abovedescribed her death in these sleeve notes, dated Billie Holiday died in Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17,in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed — by court order — only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful.
She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess — drugs were only one — had eaten her. The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.Lester Young & Billie Holiday - part 3
Her improvisation compensated for lack of musical education. Her contralto voice  lacked range and was thin, and years of drug use altered its texture and gave it a fragile, raspy sound. Holiday said that she always wanted her voice to sound like an instrument and some of her influences were Louis Armstrong and the singer Bessie Smith.
I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of "I'm a Fool to Want You. After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn't until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.
He told Ebony magazine in about her impact: With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me.
Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years. Billie Holiday discography Billie Holiday recorded extensively for four labels: Columbia Recordswhich issued her recordings on its subsidiary labels Brunswick RecordsVocalion Recordsand OKeh Recordsfrom through ; Commodore Records in and ; Decca Records from through ; briefly for Aladdin Records in ; Verve Records and on its earlier imprint Clef Records ; from throughthen again for Columbia Records from to and finally for MGM Records in Many of Holiday's recordings appeared on rpm records prior to the long-playing vinyl record eraand only Clef, Verve, and Columbia issued albums during her lifetime that were not compilations of previously released material.
Many compilations have been issued since her death; as well as comprehensive box sets and live recordings.