Billie Holiday Art Project to Celebrate Jazz Legend in Baltimore!

Billie Holiday – who was born in Baltimore in 1915 and grew up in the jazz talent-rich Charm City of the  1920s – was a true artist of her day and rose as a social phenomenon. Her soulful, unique singing voice and her ability to boldly turn any material that she confronted into her own music made her a superstar of her time. Today, Holiday is remembered for her masterpieces, creativity and vivacity, as many of Holiday’s songs are as well known today as they were decades ago. Holiday’s poignant voice is still considered to be one of the greatest jazz voices of all time.

As a young teenager, Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) served the beginning part of her so-called “apprenticeship” by singing along with records by Bessie Smith or Louis Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs. When Holiday’s mother, Sadie Fagan, moved to New York in search of a better job, Billie eventually went with her. She made her true singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs and borrowed her professional name – Billie Holiday – from screen star Billie Dove. Although she never received any technical training and never even so much as learned how to read music, Holiday quickly became an active participant in what was then one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country.

Despite her lack of technical training, Holiday’s unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity made her the outstanding jazz singer of her day. White gardenias, worn in her hair, became her trademark. “Singing songs like the ‘The Man I Love’ or ‘Porgy’ is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I’ve lived songs like that.”  Billie Holiday – a musical legend still popular today – died an untimely death at the age of 44. Her emotive voice, innovative techniques and touching songs will forever be remembered and enjoyed.

And now, she will be celebrated and memorialized in her native Baltimore through a unique, community-oriented artistic venture. The “Billie Holiday Project” has been awarded a grant from the PNC Transformative Art Project though the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.  In partnership with the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association, the Billie Holiday Project will create a tribute to the jazz great – who once resided in that neighborhood – with one mosaic, five murals, wall plaques and painted screens in the 200 block of South Durham Street. The block will be named “Lady Day Way” and serve as a community centerpiece and tourist destination. Artist Joe Rizza will create the Billie Holiday mosaic, while muralists Michael Kirby, Bridget Cimino, Anne Kotleba and James Eichelberger will paint images of the singer on designated walls on that block.

Check back here soon for updates and more details!


Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts: PNC Transformative Art Project

Billie Holiday Project: Facebook

Official Billie Holiday Site: Biography

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