Billie Holiday is one of the best jazz singers in history. This is not up for debate. However, she could just as easily be considered one of the best blues singers as well.
Her life was riddled with the blues, which was unconsciously reflected in her voice, whether she sang “Strange Fruit,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Lover Man” or the perky “Come Love.” In honor of Holiday’s 100th birthday April 7, and her significant contribution to the world of music, Harlem’s Apollo Theater inducted her into the Apollo Walk of Fame April 6.
Holiday’s plaque was installed underneath the Apollo marquee on 125th Street, joining the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Chuck Jackson, Celia Cruz and its most recent inductee, Louis Armstrong.
Two-time Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson and Apollo President and CEO Jonelle Procope presented the Walk of Fame plaque to Steve Salm, managing partner of the Bicycle Music Company, which manages Holiday’s estate.
“It is an honor to celebrate Billie Holiday and her many contributions to the jazz and blues world on her centennial birthday,” said Mikki Shepard, executive producer for the Apollo Theater. “The Walk of Fame is our way of paying tribute to the Apollo legends who have transformed the American entertainment landscape. Billie Holiday, without a doubt, is the personification of this.”
Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan April 7, 1915, performed at the Apollo 23 times. Her debut was as a 19-year old singing “If the Moon Turns Green” and “The Man I Love.” In the late 1940s, upon losing her New York City cabaret card, the Apollo remained one of the few New York City venues where she could perform.
The party escalates April 10 with “A Celebration of Billie Holiday,” featuring the Apollo Theater debut of jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 800-765-1259.
In honor of “Lady Day,” Legacy Recordings released Wilson’s CD “Coming Forth by Day” April 7. The album features original interpretations of 11 songs recorded by Holiday over her career and an original by Wilson eitled “Last Song (For Lester).” “Coming Forth by Day” is a homage dedicated to the genius of Holiday.
“This recording is a vehicle for the re-emergence of Billie’s songbook in the 21st century,” said Wilson.
Wilson, like Holiday, became a recognizable voice in the competitive waters of jazz vocalism. Just as Holiday was greatly influenced by musicians, especially Lester Young, Wilson’s influence was Miles Davis. In 1999, she produced and recorded “Traveling Miles” as a tribute to the trumpeter. The album was developed from a series of jazz concerts that she performed at Lincoln Center in November 1997 in Davis’ honor.
Holiday’s birthday celebration continues April 10 and 11 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 60th Street, with simultaneous events in their three venues. The Frederick P. Rose Hall will present the inspiring well-seasoned vocalist Andy Bey, whose lyrical flow is permeated with a blues intensity; Molly Johnson, one of Canada’s noted musical voices; and Sarah Elizabeth Charles, a member of the 2009 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Composers Residency. Band members will include music director and pianist Peter Martin, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. There will be one show each night at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30.
The Appel Room April 10 and 11 will offer a more intimate setting as the young vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant sings Holiday songs, with shows each night at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Salvant, whose reputation precedes her, was inspired by Holiday’s music early on. She recorded “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” a Rogers & Hart standard that Holiday recorded in the 1950s. Tickets start at $45.
The third venue, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, offers a hip jazz setting in an atmosphere where Holiday felt at home, where she could be up close and personal with her fans. The party “Billie and the Boys: A Centennial Celebration of Billie Holiday” begins tonight, April 9, running through April 12, with a 12-piece band featuring a varied mix of young vocalists, including Shenel Johns, Elena Pinderhughes, Molly Ryan, Vuyo Sotashe and Michael Mwenso, with music director Riley Mulherkar.
This is a showcase of the many years Holiday fronted all-male big bands led by Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman. There will be shows each night at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets start at $35, with tickets for students starting at $25. For more information, call 212-721-6500 or visit jalc.org.