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Billie Holiday

Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915 and abandoned by her parents as a baby, former teenage prostitute Billy Holiday’s troubled upbringing in 1920’s Maryland remains pivotal to one of the greatest jazz voices of the 20th century.

Billie got a job as a maid but began frequenting nightclubs and jazz haunts and dabbling in prostitution.

At 22 she joined Count Basie and his band but had a row and was fired a year later. Then she joined bandleader Artie Shaw.

Billie embarked on a musical career that was dogged by personal turmoil, including heroin addiction and an abusive marriage to a Mafia enforcer. Each time she came off heroin she turned to gin with a greater vengeance.

billie_holidayIn 1959, she collapsed after two numbers at a Greenwich Village concert and went into hospital with cardiac failure and liver problems.

Police searched her hospital room as she lay dying of a kidney infection and cirrhosis of the liver and claimed to have found a packet of heroin.

She was charged with possession and – technically at least – placed under arrest. The police placed a guard by her door and her flowers, radio, magazines and personal possessions were confiscated.

She died on 17 July 1959 at the age of 44, leaving behind a legacy of performances that mirrored a lifetime of drugs, violence and heartache.  She had just $750 to her name when she passed away.

Her life story was released in 1973 as a film, Lady Sings The Blues, starring Diana Ross as Billie Holiday.

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