My teenage aunts and uncles watched the Lady Sings the Blues, a biographical movie, on our new colour RCA television. I was scared and I hid behind the single seat recliner, I was maybe three or four years old. I cried behind that recliner, I didn’t know why, but I was overcome with sadness. Perhaps, it was the slow jazz of Billie Holiday, maybe it was the truth in the music, maybe it was the blues.
Every few moments I would peek from sofa and see Diana Ross (who plays Billie Holiday) behaving oddly, staring and gazing in the air. I didn’t understand. Why was she doing that? I saw Billy Dee Williams fighting with her, consoling her, loving her, it didn’t make sense.
Billie Holiday was a jazz singer, legendary for the songs she sang like “Don’t Explain”, “Strange Fruit” and the popular “God Bless the Child”. Billie was a victim of rape at the age of 11 and became a prostitute by the age of 14. She has her first singing gig at 17, a record debut at 18, and continued success until her 40’s, but the journey was riddled with drug and alcohol abuse. Ms. Holiday, at 44, died of cirrhosis of the liver in Metropolitan Hospital in New York.
Her music, her pain, her story continues to drive me in my career; working with individuals and families impacted by mental illness, domestic violence and abuse.
Did the Lady Sings the Blues have a lasting effect on me? Is this why I entered the world of social services, is this why I’m a passionate advocate for persons who suffer with mental illness.
Every now and then I catch myself humming the lyrics Diana Ross’ “Do you know where you’re going to. I’ve always associated it to Lady Sings the Blues, although I don’t know if it was ever sang in the movie. I love the lyrics… Maybe that’s why I rock the ‘big’ hair, I love me some Diana Ross!
This week, April 7th, would have been Billie Holiday’s 99th birthday! Happy Birthday!
“I’m always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I’ve been.”
You can watch the entire movie here on YouTube –> Click Here