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African American Women's History

Read about the history of African American women, including books, articles, media, primary and secondary sources.

Focus on Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday is considered one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. Her inimitable phrasing – singing slightly behind the beat – gave her songs an air of wistfulness that was purely instinctive, for she had no training or technical knowledge.

Between 1935 and 1942 Holiday made over 100 records with various small jazz groups, mostly featuring the pianist Teddy Wilson. She also sang with the Count Basie Orchestra (1937) and Artie Shaw's band (1938), and made recordings with the saxophonist Lester Young. By the end of the 1930s she had become a big star, and she turned to solo cabaret work from 1940. In the 1940s she appeared in several films, including New Orleans (1947) with Louis Armstrong. In 1946 she gave her first solo concert in New York's Town Hall.

From CREDO Holiday, Billie in The Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women
Image: Portrait of Billie Holiday, Down Beat, New York City, Feb. 1947. - William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress