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What Is In You . . . Let It Out March 19, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Life Balance, Mindfulness, Music & Dance.

A short time ago, I received an e-mail from Heron Dance about Billie Holiday which resonated with me ~ touching as it did on the value of allowing our own lights to shine:

Billie Holiday’s life was one of extreme poverty, prostitution, drug abuse, time in prison and abusive relationships. She was a black female vocalist working during Jim Crow and experienced heartbreaking racism. Despite that, perhaps in part because of that, her work as a jazz vocalist has a power that transcends time. 

In 1936, she was hired to perform at the Grand Terrace in Chicago for seventy-five dollars a week. She accompanied Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra and accepted the gig full of enthusiasm. But after a very few performances she was fired and denied payment.

She sang too slow, according to the club’s owner, Ed Fox.  Babe Matthews, whose singing was more appropriate for dancing, was hired in Billie’s stead.

Afterwards, her manager, Joe Glaser, reportedly told her, “You’ve got to speed up the tempo, you gotta sing hot stuff.’

Billie refused, ‘I want to sing like I want to sing . . .  that’s my way of doing it.”

Rather than capitulating, she followed her own vision.  Today, Billie Holiday is regarded by many as the most influential jazz singer who ever lived.  In 1948, eleven years after being fired in Chicago, Billie performed to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall. Babe Matthews who took Billie’s place at the Grand Terrace is largely forgotten.

Roderick W. MacIver, who wrote the Heron Dance article, continued by saying:

 I don’t think Holiday’s influence is due to the quality of her voice. She was a good singer, but her voice was often thin, raspy and lacked range. Her power came from her devotion to her inner song, her inner rhythm, which she stuck with during the hard, barren years and during the chaos of the rest of her life.

That vision, that inner rhythm, comes in part out of a willingness to confront your fears. It takes courage to offer your art to the world, and to stick with it through indifference and even rejection. It takes courage to enter your inner world and bring to the surface what you find.

(The Billie Holiday story and notes above come in part from John Chilton’s biography, Billie’s Blues: The Billie Holiday Story 1933-1959.)

What is in you . . . let it out.

“Make your own kind of music.  Sing your own special song.  Make your own kind of music . . . even if nobody else sings along.” ~ The Mamas & The Papas

Aah . . . that’s better!

Related post:  Ruby Hunter Revealed Her Soul In Her Music (Global Mysteries)


1. Joanne - March 19, 2010

This is especially meaningful to me right about now… It reminds me of this quote that came from who knows where: “I’d rather be loathed for who I am than loved for who I am not.” It’s posted in my Facebook profile and it’s my daily reminder to take control of my own life by staying on my own unique course — no matter who approves or not… Thanks, Nancy, for this inspirational example…!

2. nrhatch - March 19, 2010

Thanks, Joanne. I feel the same way.

If I pretend to be someone I’m not and people like me . . . I’ve gained nothing, because they’ve fallen in love with a “mask.”

And if they didn’t like the “pretend me,” I’d be left wondering if the real me would have fared better.

So, yes, I’d rather be disliked for who I am than loved for who I am not.

3. nancycurteman - June 4, 2010

Billie Holliday has such a haunting voice. I can almost hear her singing “Strange Fruit.”
The words are so heartrending about the multitude of Blacks hanged in the South: “Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.” Thanks for writing about an American icon.

nrhatch - June 4, 2010

The first time I heard “Strange Fruit,” it stayed with me for weeks . . . a haunting song.

Sounds like Ruby Hunter used music in much the same way.

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