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Billy Holiday’s Song “God Bless the Child”

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    I’ve chosen “God Bless The Child” a Jazz/Blues song composed by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog. God Bless The Child was a single, released May 9th, 1941 by Okeh recording label. This song was sung by Billie Holiday and backed up by Eddie Heywood and his orchestra.

    Billie Holiday, whose birth name is Eleanora Fagan on April 7th, 1915 in Baltimore Maryland. She was the daughter of Sadie Fagan and Clarence Holiday who were thirteen and fifteen at the time of the pregnancy. Billie was born into poverty and her father was in and out of her life. Billie who changed her name from Eleanora was influenced by this change because of her favorite actress, Billie Dove. Growing up Billie would run errands for local prostitutes and in return, they would let her listen to their records of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Billies’ mother soon after moved her to New York, New York but when the Great Depression hit her mother was out of work as a maid. Billie trying to support her mother and herself applied to be a dancer for a nightclub but was rejected. She was offered a job to sing at these nightclubs instead. Throughout these nightclubs, in Harlem, she was discovered by John Hammond, who insisted Benny Goodman to use her on a record in 1933.

    This was the start of her international stardom. In the 1930s, Billie worked as a vocalist for many big bands including Count Basie and Artie Shaw. She was also famously known for her relationship with Basie’s tenor saxophonist, Lester Young. They made legendary music together and were known for how good they worked together. Billie went on to make many notable hits. However, besides “God Bless the Child”, Billie’s ‘Strange Fruit,’ with lyrics by Lewis Allan to which Billie sang the music, is a song about lynching it describes this act in full graphic detail. Billie’s record company thought this song was too graphic and taboo for audiences and would not release it. It was later released by a small record company and a huge hit. In the mid-1940s Billie had been arrested for illegal drug use multiple times. She was placed in a federal rehabilitation center in West Virginia, for a year and a day. Her last performance was at the Phoenix Theatre in New York City on May 25th, 1959. She died in New York City on July 17th, 1959, of heart failure. Even up to the time of her death she had been using illegal drugs. Besides all this Billie Holiday was still admired by all.

    Billie was an innovator for her time because she composed and sang many of her own songs, this was rare for a singer to do this because most music was composed by already well known men. Billie was known for her unique voice that still stands out in today’s music. Billies version of the song, “God Bless the Child” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1976. The RIAA included it on the list of the ‘Songs of the Century.’

    This musical piece is done in an A-A-B-A in other words a 32-bar song form. This is a Jazz/Blues song. The song was written in 1941, after an argument with her mother over financial help. Just a few years earlier, Billie had loaned her mother thousands of dollars to open a restaurant her mother than later declined her request for a loan. The song inspired many people from books to songs. A children’s picture book, God Bless the Child, was inspired by this song and published by HarperCollins. There were many covers from different artist but most the most popular was Blood, Sweat & Tears. Blood, Sweat & Tears released a 1969 self-titled album, which ended up winning a Grammy.

    This musical piece is 4:00, I listened to this piece continually throughout writing this report. My favorite part about her music and this song specifically is her voice. We are not versatile in the voices we hear in today’s music. I also loved the background of why the song was written. I can relate to why she feels that way and how she turned anger into a hit record. This song and even this genre are foreign to me and I really enjoyed it especially while doing homework it was catchy but not distracting. I rate this piece an 8/10 only because it is music I would still have to get used to. The lyrics were amazing, and the passion she sang it with pushed the song further. The one question I wish I could ask Billie Holiday about this piece is, “How did your mother feel about this song?”

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