Black History Month Blog Series: Billie Holiday

By Michelle Duberry, Schools & Partnerships Manager

Billie Holiday ( April 7th, 1915-July 17th, 1959)

Although she was born over a hundred years ago Billie Holliday has left an indelible mark on our fair Baltimore City. While both of her parents were from Baltimore she was actually born in Philadelphia to her teen, unwed mother, Sadie Fagan on April 7th, 1915. Her father was believed to be a jazz musician named Clarence Holiday. He was absent from her life, choosing his music career over his family. Billie Holiday had a difficult childhood and a tumultuous family life. Her mother worked long hours and she was often left in the care of other family members. She grew up in poverty in Fells Point, and started working by the tender age of six. When she was just 9 years old she was taken to live in a catholic reform school for truancy. By the time she was in the 5th grade she had  dropped out from school to work full time. 

  Billie found solace and inspiration in the music of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. And despite her having a very difficult childhood she began singing in Jazz clubs in Harlem and was discovered at the age of 18. She would become one of the most famous jazz singers in our country. She was known for being innovative with her phrasing and tempo. She also had amazing vocal delivery. Throughout her career she never forgot Baltimore and visited and performed here frequently. Holliday’s influence on our city can be seen by the murals of her likeness that are peppered throughout the city and by the statue commemorating her on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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