Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia in 1915, she was raised in extreme poverty in Baltimore. At the age of 10, she reported that she had been raped. A few years later she moved her to Harlem, where according to her own account, she was soon working in a brothel and at some point was briefly imprisoned for soliciting. More promisingly, she auditioned as a dancer at a local club, but instead landed a job as a singer, taking the stage name ‘Billie Holiday.’ 

Working her way around the Harlem jazz clubs, she was just 18 when she was discovered at a club called Monette's by John Hammond, the legendary talent scout who also discovered Bessie Smith and Robert Johnson. Impressed by the honest, bluesy quality she brought to her repertoire of jazz standards and show tunes, Hammond was convinced that Holiday represented a new and exciting style of jazz singing.

Her studio debut in 1933 featured Benny Goodman’s band, and she also began to record with other jazz greats, such as pianist Teddy Wilson, or the stellar saxophonist Lester Young, who first gave her the name ‘Lady Day.’ Examples of the way they complemented each other can be heard on this compilation on ‘I'll Never Be The Same’, ‘Mean To Me’, ‘I Can't Get Started’ and one of the most powerful songs in history, ‘Strange Fruit’, which was among the first popular musical expressions of an explicitly anti-racist message. Her work with big bands led by Artie Shaw and Count Basie brought her further recognition in the late 1930s, an era represented by memorable sides such as ‘God Bless The Child’ and ‘Gloomy Sunday’. The album also features her own compositions, ‘I Love My Man’ and ‘Long Gone Blues’ reflect her ties with the blues tradition. In the following two decades she recorded some of her biggest hits including ‘Lover Man’, yet her addictions and painful relationships led to a difficult life and a tragic end in 1959. It was no coincidence that she called her autobiography ‘Lady Sings The Blues’. In the notes she sang we can hear that Billie Holiday not only sang the blues – she lived them.

Her undeniable influence can still be heard in the smoky voices of pop divas such as Amy Winehouse or Alicia Keys. The bonus disc presents Billie Holiday’s contemporaries including Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington who were all touched by here uniquely emotional voice, as well as a wonderful live performance by Louis Armstrong that includes a guest appearance by Lady Day herself...