Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"If It Ain't Got That Swing..." -- A "Theme Thursday" Post

I'm posting this one a day early, since my schedule's pretty tight, and I wanted to see how it looked!

Today's Theme Thursday post -- "Swing" -- finds the ol' Silver Fox a bit burnt out from things going on in the real world, so I'm going to write about someone who burned out in her own way... The incomparably talented "Lady Day," Billie Holiday. I should add that the following is not intended to be any kind of a biography. Merely some vignettes from her all-too-brief life.

Billie Holiday (1915-1959) had a life filled with one indignity after another. She was raped at least twice -- the first time when she was only ten -- and became a prostitute by age fifteen. She struggled for years with heroin addiction. And she was an African-American -- in her time, she would have been called either "Negro" or "colored" by those inclined to be polite -- during a period when the injustices of racism were only beginning to be questioned.

In keeping with today's theme, I'm tying Lady Day's life to "swing" in not one, but three ways. The first one's pretty obvious, the second one's rather morbid, and the third is a connection which will hopefully come out of left field.

1. Depending on whose article you read and, I suppose, the songs mentioned, Billie Holiday is described as a blues singer, a jazz singer, and/or a singer in swing bands. She performed with such notables as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw, to name a few.

2. "Strange Fruit" was a song which Billie Holiday introduced, It was a scathing, mournful tune about the lynchings of Negroes in the American South. The "strange fruit" hanging from the trees were the hanged Negroes themselves. The song was a staple of hers for twenty years. However, in a 1958 interview, Ms. Holiday complained that many people missed the song's message entirely: "They'll ask me to 'sing that sexy song about the people swinging.' "

3. According to Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday's autiobiograhy (co-written with William Dufty), the third example of "swinging" occurred during a time when Billie Holiday was sentenced to a "Catholic institiution."

(I say "according to," since Lady Sings the Blues contains several inaccuracies. When someone pointed some of them out to Billie, she replied "I ain't never read that book.")

Billie was sent to an institution after having been raped at age ten -- yes, that was her "crime" -- and the designated "bad girl" at any given moment there was made to wear a red dress. The other girls were ordered not to look at or speak to the wearer of that dress. One such girl was literally screaming for attention, by standing on the playground swing and swinging higher and higher. A nun predicted that God would punish her, right before the swing broke, sending the poor girl flying through the air. She broke her neck upon landing.

They had great forms of punishment there, according to the book. Shortly thereafter, Billie herself was punished for some offense by being locked overnight in the room where the dead girl's body rested, before the day of her funeral.

* * * * *

Jack Kerouac mentioned Billie Holiday's "Lover Man" in On the Road, which set me in search of the song... and began my love affair with Lady Day.

And now for something a bit more cheerful! A brief rendition of the swing tune, "Sing, Sing, Sing!" The song features Gene Krupa on drums, Benny Goodman on clarinet, and Harry James on trumpet. That's an awful lot of talent for only two minutes!

And, in that vein, a "duel" between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich! (Notice the strains of "Sing, Sing, Sing" at the clip's beginning.)

Thanks for your time... swingers! (And I'll be visiting other TT posters as my busy Thursday schedule permits!)


  1. I love her rendition of "Moonlight in Vermont"

  2. that was pretty intense Silver Fox. it surprises me what attitudes continue to exist to this day when it comes to race. i guess it shouldn't but...sad.

    cruel punishment she endured for a crime commited upon her, but they probably blamed her for bringing it on herself...which seems to go on today as well.

    thanks for the little uplift at the end. : )

    happy (early) TT, hope things slow down a bit for you soon.

  3. Coincidentally, I was just listening to Billie today (a YouTube clip of "I Wished On The Moon"). Very good post. I enjoyed it.


  4. Very swingin' post, Sliver Fox. And I do miss the drum wars. Ended up trading my Al Roach/Buddy Rich album years ago***SIGH***but Krupa was right up there. Now go get some rest! You know you need it...

  5. Brian: Yeah, they kinda figured she'd "asked for it somehow." You know how worldly and wiley those ten-year-olds can be, right?

    Subby: Al Roach? Didn't he run the studio that produced the Laurel & Hardy flicks, along with the Our Gang comedies? (Oh, Subby's gonna KILL me for that one!)

  6. I love Billie Holiday!
    Thanks for that! What a treat!
    Jill from The Glen

  7. My toes are tapping after that "swinging" music!

  8. What an incredible, full to the brim, thoughtful and lively post!

    thanks very much.

  9. It's amazing what they did to women for a crime made against them. How she survived that school is beyond me. A good thing she did, though. Great music selections.

  10. Very interesting tie-ins to today's theme. It is so incredible the amount of pain and suffering we inflict on each other. Yeah, part 3 came out of left field. They probably figured that little girl was asking for it too.

    Hey! I remember that duel between Krupa and Rich. Fantastic reminder.

  11. I enjoyed this greatly.

    Left field is correct.

    I always loved her music. I am still trying to figure out how anyone with ears could mistake Strange Fruit.

  12. your usual brillance, oh Master.
    Great choice for the theme

  13. that's interesting stuff...the music is great.

  14. Awww, man! That was great! Starts off kinda sad...gone too soon Billie, leaving strange beauty in her wake. Then Bennie and the boys got my foot tappin' fast, topped off with a drum duel so hot it made Sammy give away his shoes! Ha!Ha! The swingin'est!

  15. Love Billie Holiday. Excellent post, Sil.

  16. Interesting post and very dark as you said the center part would be. I had not heard of "Strange Fruit" until today. Enlightening as from where it came & who recorded it.

    On a lighter note... I LOVE the dueling "swinging" sticks. Those guys could really "swing". Thanks for leaving your blog on such a happy note.

  17. Great post, with some things I did not know about Ms. Holiday. Thanks! Going back to listen to the music now while browsing other TT posts!

  18. Definitely a great post, SF! Heh, heh! And great minds think alike - I posted a version of "Sing, Sing, Sing" too.

  19. I didn't know the story. I recognized the artist and songs but not the biography. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Wonderful! I came to know Billie Holiday and her music through Diana Ross, I am a HUGE Supremes fan so I had to watch Lady Sings the Blues so I had to listen to more Billie Holliday, etc. etc. Great post.

  21. 'If Push Comes To Shove'......Billie Holiday Must Have The Greatest Voice Ever Recorded! Thank You Sir For a Splendid TT.

    Regards Tony.

  22. I knew she did not have a great life, but I did not know it was so bad as this story. Very sad that things like that still happen today. Some man (DL)...I cannot even write his name, he disgusts me so....on TV makes jokes about the rape of a young girl and get away with it, the audience laughs, and others think it is funny. This story shows that it is not funny and affects them for life. Granted the TV one was a joke, but that will affect that little girl too. That man needs to be fired and thrown into the pits of hell. Rape is not a joke. Imagined or real.

    Okay back to the story, it was great and I like the brief history of her life. Great music to listen to.

    Thank you and God bless.

  23. Silver Fox this is a fabulous take on the theme this week. I really love the Big Band Sound and remember seeing drummer showdowns on TV.

    Billie Holliday was a marvelous singer who lead such a tragic life.

    Thank you for the different soundtracks.

  24. And yet another great post. I knew of some of the tragedies’ Billie endured but not all. I’m with Rhonda…why is this done to others as humans?....I just don’t get it? I hope Billie is resting in eternal peace knowing we are thankful for all her contributions.

  25. #2 shocked me. "that sexy song about the people swinging?"

    I can't stop shaking my head.

  26. wow. i didn't know all that about billie holiday

  27. SF,HA! No worries on that but no coffee Sunday! Kidding...maybe....

  28. you may have been a day early but I was a day late checking in!

    great info on lady day....

    I once thought of using the title of strange fruit to a post I did, but the images evoked from the lyrics were so upsetting to me, I just couldn't even though it is an amazing song...I can't believe what ms holiday said about the song in the interview! goes to show how much people don't pay attention!

  29. i knew her life was pretty tragic, but didn't realise how much

    sad and sobering
    but what a good post

  30. hope you don't mind if I shamelessly promote my latest blog post which is shamelessly promoting a new crafty charity project - please read it and if you feel able help advertise (or contribute in any other way) that would be FAB

  31. Lettuce: I don't even have any problem at all as far as someone "plugging" his or her own stuff, so anything selfless like your "made4aid" project is absolutely fine! As time permits, I'll be following up on it -- I've already checked out your link -- and I'll hopefully be able to help in some small way in the near future.

  32. Hi! Silver Fox,
    What a very thought-provoking post...and sad vignettes that you have posted about the late singer Billie Holiday.
    S.F., Thanks, for sharing! the videos...Once again! I'am glad that
    I stopped by!
    Take care!
    p.s. Just like you, I have been a little busy, but since I enjoy the TT members company...I alway try to make time for as many members as

  33. Loved it! Sing sing sing sing, everybody start to sing! :D

  34. Hi SF,

    I am shamelessly promoting a project at my website for everyone to see.

    Just click on my name and then I will also ask if you will join me to shamelessly join in and promote it too. The more who join, the more shamelessness for us all. This should be fun for everyone and we are doing something good.

    God bless.

  35. I'm a week late with this but am checkin' out early posts for this week's TT. Love your Lady Day post. I am a fan...awww, who isn't? I believe she wrote "Strange Fruit". I didn't bother to google that. I just think it.

    Nice videos you found too!

  36. Nice music.I'm not really familiar with Billie Holliday outside of the Diana Ross movie, poor thing.Thnaks for cheering things up before signing off, Foxy.


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