Happy Birthday Billie Holiday 

US #2856 from the Blues and Jazz Singers issue.

Eleanora Fagan, better known as Billie Holiday, was born on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Fagan’s father was likely Clarence Holiday, a traveling musician, who left the family to pursue his music career. For much of Holiday’s early life, her mother was away from home for long periods of time for various transportation jobs, so she was raised by extended family.

Item #4902394 – Billie Holiday Proof Card.

Holiday had a difficult childhood and dropped out of school by age 11. She worked various jobs and eventually joined her mother in New York. Once in New York, Holiday began singing in nightclubs in Harlem. She adopted her stage name after actress Billie Dove.

In 1933, Holiday made her first recording at the age of 18. She recorded “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch.” The latter album sold 5,000 copies. Although she was relatively unknown until 1935, these first recordings are considered jazz masterpieces. Holiday impressed producer John Hammond, who claimed, “Her singing almost changed my music tastes and my musical life, because she was the first girl singer I’d come across who actually sang like an improvising jazz genius.”

In 1935, Holiday appeared in Duke Ellington’s short, Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life. That same year she recorded “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” which gave Holiday her first taste of fame. In the coming years, Holiday made a habit of taking pop songs and turning them into Jazz hits, including “Twenty-Four Hours a Day” and “Yankee Doodle Went to Town.”

US #2856 – Mystic First Day Cover.

In 1937, Holiday began a brief period of singing with Count Basie’s big band. She enjoyed that time, as she was able to pick the songs she sang as well as give her input on the arrangements. The following year, Holiday and Basie’s band competed against Ella Fitzgerald and the Chick Webb Band. Some were split on who won, but Fitzgerald won a poll of the audience.

US #2856 – Classic First Day Cover.

In 1938, Holiday left Basie’s band and was hired by Artie Shaw. She was one of the first African American women to work with a white orchestra and the first to work full-time touring the segregated South with a white bandleader. She remained with that band for less than a year. Holiday then began performing at Café Society nightclub, where she gained even more fame for her performance of “Strange Fruit.”

US #2854-61 – Blues and Jazz Singers issue.

In 1942, Holiday got into an argument with her mother over money. She shouted, “God bless the child that’s got his own” and stormed out. She later co-wrote a song inspired the event called “God Bless the Child.” That song would go on to be her most popular and covered of her career.

Holiday would go on to have more success in the 1940s, with “Lover Man.” In 1946, Holiday appeared in the only major film of her career, New Orleans. After a brief stint in jail for narcotics, Holiday staged a comeback concert at Carnegie Hall in 1948. She sold 2,700 tickets in advance, a record for the time. That same year she also had a short-lived run on Broadway.

Grenada #2882-83 includes a stamp honoring Holiday.

Holiday embarked on a European tour in 1954 and released an autobiography in 1956. She continued to perform and record, but years of drug abuse and drinking had taken a toll on her health. She died on July 17, 1959. Years later, she would receive four Grammy Awards and be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Click here to listen to some of Holiday’s songs.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
5/5 - (1 vote)
Share this Article


  1. She is one of the stars of my music on stamps collection! It started with those five great musicians on the famous American set of 1940. I have all of this fingers musicians and composers arranged in chronological order of their birth year! –jws

  2. Great article. I am starting to build an album on “Women Subjects on United States Postage Stamps”. Do you have a album for this. Regards.

  3. This was the first” This Day in History” article for me and I found it very interesting. I’m excited for future articles. I’m new to this, and I do believe that this is going to be an awesome Hobby for me..God bless and have a Great Day!!

    1. Marla, don’t miss looking at all the past stamp history articles as well. Many, many great write-ups on the stories behind the stamps.

  4. It’s unfortunate that the money from fame has drawn so many to the use/over use of drugs and alcohol. So many lost too soon and so many lost ‘before’ they were known.

  5. Billie Holiday was absolutely a great female vocalist … one of my all-time favorites ! How talented can one be ? … well, she was !! I learned a lot about her from this essay that I did not know before reading it just now. I appreciate the update very much; it is always interesting and helpful to be able to understand how and why some things happened to talented individuals that we just were not aware of, for whatever reason. TOM … YOU ,,, Sir … are absolutely correct. Thank you !

  6. As I’m a jazz fan I knew who she was. Her voice deteriorated as the abuse of drugs and alcohol took its toll. But there was a lot of soul in her renditions of songs. She just happened to be around enough jazz artists to be affected by the life of addiction. Thanks again for the nice write up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *