Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Billie Holiday performing Strange Fruit.
Billie’s Best, Polygram Records, 1992
In my book, and I am hardly alone on this, Billie Holiday is the torch singer's torch singer. Maybe it is the phrasing on her best songs. That well-placed hush. Maybe it is the unbreakable link between her voice when she is on a roll and the arrangements. Hell, maybe in the end it was the dope but, by Jesus, she could sing a modern ballad of love, lost or both like no other. And if it was the dope, let me say this- a `normal' nice singer could sing for a hundred years and never get it right, the way Billie could get it right when she was at her best. Dope or no dope. Was she always at her best? Hell no, as the current compilation makes clear. These recordings done between 1945 and her death in 1959 for Verve show the highs but also the lows as the voice faltered a little and the dope put the nerves on edge toward the end.
Many of the songs on the current compilation are technically sound, a few not, as is to be expected on such re-mastering. You will like Come Rain or Come Shine, Stars Fell On Alabama and Stormy Blues. A tear will come to your eye with Some Other Spring and East of the Sun. The surprise of the package is Speak Low, a sultry song with tropical background beat. That one is very good, indeed.
One last word- I have occasionally mentioned my love of Billie Holiday's music to younger acquaintances. Some of their responses reflecting, I think, the influence of the movie version of her life (Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross) or some unsympathetic black history 'uplift' type views on her life have written her off as an 'addled' doper. Here is my rejoinder- If when I am blue and need a pick me-up and put on a Billie platter (CD)and feel better then, my friends, I do not give a damn about the dope. Enough said.