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Race Music

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"I stole everything I ever heard,

but mostly I stole from the horns" -Ella Fitzgerald

Some of the most influential musicians both vocally and lyrically throughout the past century have been women. Among these women were some very prolific African American singers, composers, divas, how ever you chose to classify them. These women were pioneers of their time and laid an easier path for future African American female musicians to walk upon. Their music has been revered and kept alive through the generations that have come and gone, and still our ears burn at the sounds of their voices. To be a female in this society means that your citizenship is that of second class, but to be African American and female means it will be that much harder for success to come your way. Artists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lina Horne, and Aretha Franklin have been pioneers of their time; without these artists there could have never been the space provided for musicians such as Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, or Missy Elliot to gain such commercial success.

Born April 7th 1915 in Philadelphia was Billie Holiday, perhaps the most famous and influential jazz artist, otherwise known as Lady Day. Holiday had the kind of voice you never forget, and no singer has ever conveyed despair into such beautiful tones; she had the ability to draw on her own feelings and emotions to express them with such an honesty that cut into her audience and evoked passion. Billie sang with great depth and emotion of injustices, her hard times, and also her triumphs. "Her personal life was as turbulent as the songs she sang; she took up with Joe Guy a trumpet player while still married to Jimmy Monroe a trombonist; In 1942 Billie married Louis McKay a mafia

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enforcer who was abusive". ( Her voice was distinct in her time and so was her style of music. The impressive factor about Billie Holiday is that she had no technique training, and created sophisticated music with such soulful and dramatically intense phrasing which made her sound recognizable and loved worldwide.

"Lonely grief is hounding me

Like the lonely shadow hounding me

It's always there just out of sight

Like a fragling tree on a lightening night

Lonely wind cries out my name

Sad as haunted music in the rain

It's born of grief and born of woe

But I hear it call and I've got to go

Where can I be headed for

The blues call in my north

To lick my heart once more

Love lives in a lonely land

Where there's no helping hand to understand

Why does it bring this hate to me

Why it don't matter why

I only know misery has to be part of me" - Deep Song, Billie Holiday

"She did not scat, but instead phrased her vocal lines as a jazz instrumentalist might do; she took the melody from the beat and stretched or minimized it, singing behind the beat". (Women and Music, 206)

In 1929 Billie Holiday moved to Harlem, NY where she began singing in night clubs to earn a living. Queens and Brooklyn were also among the places that Holiday frequented her talents, but it was at a place called Pod's and Jerry's where she was

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discovered. (Ramsey) Pod's and Jerry's was a popular speak-easy in Harlem where Billie auditioned initially for a dancing gig, but was later asked to sing. Billie possessed both the wit and courage needed to live the part of a pioneering black woman. "A social revolutionary, activist, agitator, or pioneer; she judged each situation and person on his or her own merits to the best of her ability and took the risks she thought could further her ambitions." (Gourse, xv)

In 1933 Billie was discovered by John Hammond singing in various Harlem clubs, she was only 20. Hammond arranged for her to record a couple titles with Benny Goodman in 1933 which triggered the start of her career. Billie's music was so powerful because she conveyed the emotions brought about by her private life which was often times very tumultuous. There were periods of prostitution, abusive relationships, and drug addiction which were all experience that coloured her vocal performances. (Gourse, 10)

Billie worked with some of the greats in the jazz scene in 1935, among them were saxophonist Lester Young who actually gave her the nickname "Lady Day" which transformed her into the performer with white gardenia in her hair. In 1937 Billie played with Count Basie's band, and later in 1938 she became the first African American singer to tour with an all white band known as Artie Shaw band. This was a great step forward for the African American community; Billie broke the color barrier by performing with Artie Shaw and began her solo career in 1939 again singing in nightclubs. Although Billie had been singing and recording since 1933 her fame and success become

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prominent in the 1940's which such songs as "Strange Fruit" and "I Cover the Waterfront."

Billie was an incredible artist, but like a lot of amazing musicians she suffered from a drug addiction of heroin that plagued her from the early 40's till her death. Her drug abuse ravaged her range and her voice through out the ladder part of her career but she still left behind her a legendary imprint for African American women in music. Her major contribution was the fact that she was a black female jazz artist who broke the color barrier.

Another one of music histories prominent greats was Ella Fitzgerald also known as "First Lady of Song." Some would argue that she was the greatest female jazz musician to grace our presence, but I would argue she was the most commercialized jazz musician of her time and had a significant impact on American culture. "Over her career span Ella received numerous awards including 13 Grammy Awards, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award, and an honorary doctorate of music from Yale University". (Women and Music, 206)

Ella Fitzgerald



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