Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Billie Holiday - All of me"

1 comment:

TSE said...

915–29: Childhood

Eleanora Fagan[3][4] was born on April 7, 1915,[5] in Philadelphia, the daughter of Sarah Julia "Sadie" Fagan and Clarence Holiday, an unmarried teenaged couple. Her father did not live with her mother. Not long after Eleanora was born, Clarence abandoned his family to pursue a career as a jazz banjo player and guitarist.[6] Sarah moved to Philadelphia at age 19,[7] after she was evicted from her parents' home in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, for becoming pregnant. With no support from her parents, she made arrangements with her older, married half-sister, Eva Miller, for Eleanora to stay with her in Baltimore.
Holiday aged 2 in 1917

Holiday had a difficult childhood. Her mother often took what were then known as transportation jobs, serving on passenger railroads. Holiday was left to be raised largely by Eva Miller's mother-in-law, Martha Miller, and suffered from her mother's absences and being left in the care of others for much of the first ten years of her life.[8] Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, first published in 1956, is sketchy on details of her early life, but much was confirmed by Stuart Nicholson in his 1995 biography of the singer. Some historians have disputed Holiday's paternity, as a copy of her birth certificate in the Baltimore archives lists the father as a man named Frank DeViese. Other historians consider this an anomaly, probably inserted by a hospital or government worker.[9] DeViese lived in Philadelphia, and Sadie Harris may have known him through her work. Sadie Harris, then known as Sadie Fagan, married Philip Gough, but the marriage ended in two years. Eleonora was left with Martha Miller again while her mother took more transportation jobs.[10] She frequently skipped school, and her truancy resulted in her being brought before the juvenile court on January 5, 1925, when she was nine years old. She was sent to the House of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic reform school. She was baptized there on March 19, 1925. After nine months in care, she was "paroled" on October 3, 1925, to her mother, who had opened a restaurant, the East Side Grill, where she and Holiday worked long hours. By the age of 11, Holiday had dropped out of school.[11]

Holiday's mother returned to their home on December 24, 1926, to discover a neighbor, Wilbur Rich, attempting to rape Billie. She successfully fought back, and Rich was arrested. Officials placed Billie in the House of the Good Shepherd under protective custody as a state witness in the rape case.[12] Holiday was released in February 1927, nearly twelve. She found a job running errands in a brothel,[13] and she scrubbed marble steps and kitchen and bathroom floors of neighborhood homes.[14] Around this time, she first heard the records of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. By the end of 1928, Holiday's mother moved to Harlem, New York, and left Holiday again with Martha Miller.[15]

By early 1929, Holiday had joined her mother in Harlem. Their landlady was a sharply dressed woman named Florence Williams, who ran a brothel at 151 West 140th Street. Holiday's mother became a prostitute, and within a matter of days of arriving in New York, Holiday, who was not yet fourteen, also became a prostitute at $5 a client.[16] On May 2, 1929, the house was raided, and Holiday and her mother were sent to prison. After spending some time in a workhouse, her mother was released in July, and Holiday was released in October.