Dead People You Should Know: Billie Holiday


Born: Eleanora Fagan 

D.O.B: April 7, 1915 

D.O.D: July 17, 1950 

Cause of Death: Drug Related Complications 

Known for: Melancholy voice and role in the jazz music industry 


Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with the name of Eleanora Fagan, Billie Holiday would soon be forever known as, "The best jazz vocalist of all time", and would eventually be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, her childhood was not always filled with success. Billie Holiday spent a lot of her time in her childhood home with her mother, Sadie, who was only sixteen when she gave birth. Holiday's father, known as Clarence Holiday, had not been involved in Billie's life throughout her childhood. Her mother would often leave Billie to be taken care for by people she didn’t even know. Her mother, Sadie, eventually got married to Philip Gough, but Gough left Sadie and Billie on their own not long after they got married. During this time, Billie Holiday was crushed and started skipping out on school. She got in trouble often, and her mother was forced to put her into a popular facility for troubled African American girls, but was sent home at the age of nine for sexual assault. After the incident, Billie and her mother went to live in New York City in the early 1929's. It was here that she started to sing in clubs and called herself "Billie" after the famous singer, Billie Dove.   

Billie Holiday eventually got noticed by a producer, who wanted to sign her for her "Distinctive phrasing and sometimes melancholy voice." Holiday was now releasing singles and started performing with famous artists during the time such as Teddy Wilson and Duke Ellington. People were starting to ridicule her for her race and style of singing, which she began to get frustrated with and began her solo career. She debuted her two most popular songs called "God Bless the Child" and Strange Fruit."   

Holiday eventually got married to James Monroe in 1941, who was mostly known as a heavy drinker. Billie Holiday took on his habits and started smoking opium. Her husband realized their relationship was going downhill, and stopped using, however,  Holiday's substance problem continued on even after the divorce of their marriage. After her last marriage ended, she started dating famous trumpeter Joe Guy, with whom she started using heroin with. Her substance problem only got worse when her mother died in October, 1945. Despite her personal problems, her career only got stronger and widely known. She played a maid in a movie with her idol, Louis Armstrong.   

She let her substance problem get in the way, one day, when she was arrested for narcotics possession in 1947. She was sentenced to one year and one day, and when she was released, she had trouble with her career. She was unable to now play in coffee shops and most small theatres. Holiday was able to finish her tour, however, in the 1950's. After she got to finish her United States tour, she was given the opportunity to start her Europe tour. Billie Holiday started dating Louis McKay, who were both arrested for narcotics, once again. By the time they were released from prison, they traveled to Mexico and got married. She gave her final performance May 25, 1959, and not long after, she was hospitalized for different hear and liver problems. She was so addicted to substance that she was actually arrested for possession while inside of the hospital. On July 17, 1959, she sadly died in the hospital of drug related complications. More than 3,000 people gathered at the Lady's Day funeral.

More Videos

Recently uploaded

Search Schools

Find a school channel on the Fusfoo high school digital network.

Log In / Sign Up

Join the Fusfoo high school digital network now to follow all of your favorite channels and creators.