July 31, 2021

Billie Holiday’s Broken Voice

Billie Holiday (Philadelphia, 1915 – New York, 1959) died at the age of 44, handcuffed to a bed in the Metropolitan hospital in New York. Ruined, ill and under house arrest by decision of the Federal Department of Narcotics. Tell the movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday (released on March 31), inspired by the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, that the police, with the head of the narcotics unit in charge, Harry J. Anslinger, placed it obsessively in their crosshairs. They had much to reproach her for: first, that she was black. Second, that starting from the lowest levels of misery -Daughter of a teenage couple, abandoned by her father, with her mother forced into prostitution to get ahead, raped by a neighbor when she was only ten years old, interned in a reformatory for her alleged ‘guilt’ in the assault (at author fell three months) -, was acclaimed around the world as one of the greatest singers of jazz. And third, and above all, that he allowed himself to periodically include the song in his repertoire Strange fruit, a painful cry against the lynchings of blacks, whom it was not strange to discover hanging from the trees, as unexpected and bloody fruits, especially in the reactionary southern states.

The film tells of his unstoppable career to fame in a country in constant revolt for the fight for equal rights for black people.

So, willing to shut her up, the guardians of order found in her addiction to drugs – she was also addicted to tobacco, alcohol and toxic relationships with abusive and exploiting men – the perfect excuse to make her visa impossible. He spent several months in jail, but upon his return he filled Carnegie Hall again.; to record albums in which to display his unmistakable voice, with a very personal and technical timbre, they say, somewhat poor; and, as the film reflects, also to laugh, at everything and everyone, perhaps even at his own ending.

Andra Day and Trevante Rhodes in a frame from the film.

The film, directed by Lee Daniels and starring Andra Day, addresses the story of fame, addiction and heartbreak with which the singer lived all her life. While the United States popularized this genre around the world during the first half of the last century, the interpreter’s fans turned her figure into an emblem of music. At the time, a sting operation by the country’s Federal Department of Narcotics targeted her, leading to a turbulent love affair between Holiday and the agent in charge, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes). The defense of civil rights becomes the epicenter of a film that earned Andra Day (her stage name is inspired by the singer’s nickname for the artistic influence she had on her career) the Oscar nomination for best leading actress. An Academy Award nominee for best director, Lee Daniels is also the script’s co-writer alongside Suzan-Lori Parks, the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for her work. Top Dog/Underdog in 2002.