Prior to studying Billie Holiday for this course my only knowledge of the singer came from the film Lady Sings the Blues and I recently watched the film again. Loosely based on Holiday's autobiography of the same name, the film begins in 1930s Baltimore where teenaged Billie is raped and then sent to Harlem to live with a friend of her mother's. In Harlem she works first as a chambermaid in a brothel and then a prostitute. She begins singing at a lounge across the street from the brothel and with the encouragement of the lounge’s piano player (Richard Pryor), she begins to sing professionally. Eventually she becomes the lover of gambler Louis McKay who is the sole romantic interest in the film.
Billie experiences success on the club circuit, and she is invited to tour the country with a band led by white musicians. In the South she is devastated by racism and turns to drugs. Things get worse when her mother dies, and Billie enters an insane asylum in an attempt to get clean. In the film she recovers and begins a new life with Louis McKay but her triumph is short-lived and she quickly relapses. The film closes with a montage by glancing over her remaining, disturbed days until her early death at age 44.
The film angered many and now that I know better I am not happy with it myself. First, the film is historically inaccurate and makes no mention of Lester Young, Artie Shaw or any of Billie’s other husbands or musical partners. One would think that the real life of Billie Holiday would provide more than enough dramatic material for an emotion-packed, great film but