Billie Holiday was one of the most influential women in jazz music. Lady Day, a nickname given to her by saxophonist Lester Young (she dubbed him Prez) patterned her singing style after instrumentalists and became known for her improvisation skill, as well as the unique quality of her voice. Holiday's life has become the stuff of jazz legend. Her turbulent childhood saw her moved from place to place, physically abused by the adults in her life, and trouble with the authorities that would last until her death in 1959. Music was her escape and that troubled young lady would contribute some of the most important compositions and recordings in jazz history.
Throughout her career, Holiday recorded now-classic records for Brunswick, Okeh, Decca, Capitol, and Columbia recording companies among others. Her first big hit, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" in 1935 with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra, became a jazz standard. As a songwriter, Holiday collaborated on many tunes that are now part of the jazz repertoire: "Don't Explain", "Fine and Mellow", "Billie's Blues," "Lady Sings The Blues," and the unparalleled "God Bless The Child." She sold out Carnegie Hall three times, has songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and has influenced countless singers for decades.
Holiday was plagued by alcohol and heroin addiction; her multiple run-ins with police have also become the stuff of jazz legend. Holiday died in 1959 in a Manhattan hospital, under police guard. Her hospital room had been raided by federal authorities and she had been arrested and handcuffed for drug possession as she lay dying. Holiday didn't live to see the numerous awards and honors her work eventually received. She was nominated for 23 posthumous Grammy Awards, inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Downbeat Hall of Fame.