Is Billie photo-bombing that vase of flowers or is it the other way around? Regardless, it's one of the few color pictures of "Lady Day," as they called her, so I had to use it. Everybody loves Billie Holiday, and hopefully, we're now far enough away from her heyday to appreciate her genius anew.
I know what you're thinking - "But I've always appreciated her!" - and, yes, I know, but let's also assume that many of us, at one time or another, have failed to separate the talent from her supposedly "debilitating" addiction to heroin.
Yes, she was an addict (definitely), but the way she's been portrayed - as a near-prostrate junkie in several bios and movies (most notably this train wreck) - never quite matches up with the real life woman who carefully crafted and recorded twelve original LPs in just nine years, made over thirty-five television appearances (most of them live), and was almost constantly on tour throughout North America and Europe for most of her adult life.
What I'm trying to suggest is that drugs weren't the whole story with Holiday, not even half of it, yet it's the first thing a lot of people come up with when they mention her. Even when critics talk about her voice, they'll tell you that her "delicate" sound was the result of her drug taking, when clearly, she knew exactly what she wanted her voice to do, and how best to achieve it. So when you binge-listen to this newly restored 6-CD set of her Verve master tapes, put all that noise about her in the Dumpster where it belongs and just hear the voice. Her voice. There's still no one like her.
From Billie to Sylvia...because why not?
And did you know? A few years previous, when she first started singing at NYC jazz clubs, she befriended and received training from...you guessed it, Billie Holiday. So see? From Billie to Sylvia isn't even a slight stretch. Syms was also made of hearty stuff. She survived childhood polio, had a lung removed as an adult - and she still didn't slow down. At age 74, she died of a heart attack while performing on stage (because of course she did) at NYC's The Algonquin.
And now let's take a moment to appreciate Julie Andrews' sense of humor. In the 1960's, filmmaker Blake Edwards was asked why he thought Andrews - who was at the height of her goody-two-shoes rein with "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound Of Music" - was so phenomenally successful. "Oh, I'll tell you exactly why," Edwards quipped. "She has lilacs for pubic hair." Just a few days later, Andrews delivered an immense lilac bush to his home. Not too long after, they married - a marriage that lasted over forty years until he passed.
Andrews first hit it big in North America with "My Fair Lady" on Broadway (I know you knew that), and traveled with the show to London's West End. Interestingly, there were two original cast recordings made. For some reason, I've always preferred the London version, though the differences are minute (and don't get me started on that lumpy movie version) (or its soundtrack) (blech, I tell you, blech).
Like "Porgy and Bess," Lerner & Lowe's score for "My Fair Lady" proved to be catnip for jazz artists. Below, two of my swingin' favorites with legendary jazz drummer Shelly Manne and pianist Billy Taylor. They're musts, I promise.
Don't worry. The Secret Song File will not be sending you an immense lilac bush, but if pressed, a bottle of Chanel No. 5 (because hers really are that fragrant). I've no idea what kind of fragrance emanates from a certain formally-zaftig Broadway legend, but then it's been over two decades since she's released a new CD. She may have wailed "I'm not goin'!" but truth is, it's been a while.
I wasn't crazy about this CD at first, and while some of it's starting to grow on me, I'm still on the fence, but my Cuban Luvuh is a believer. Without doubt, her voice is as powerful as ever, so if you were thinking she might have lost something along the way, don't worry. That part of her really isn't goin' anywhere. Thank goodness.
If Julie's is a lilac bush, what was Blake's?
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