Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan in 1915, was an American jazz singer and songwriter who remains one of the most influential and iconic musicians of the 20th century. Her unique vocal style, characterized by a raw and emotive expressiveness, brought a new level of depth and vulnerability to jazz and popular music. Holiday’s career spanned over three decades, during which she recorded countless classics, including “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” and “Lover Man.”
Holiday’s personal life was marked by turmoil and tragedy, including struggles with drug addiction and abusive relationships. Despite these hardships, she remained a trailblazer and a fierce advocate for civil rights, using her platform to speak out against racism and injustice. Her legacy has inspired generations of musicians and continues to resonate with listeners worldwide.
Holiday’s influence extends beyond her music, as she was also a style icon and a symbol of resistance and resilience. Her signature look, featuring a gardenia in her hair and elegant dresses, continues to inspire fashion trends today. Billie Holiday’s impact on music and culture remains unparalleled, cementing her as one of the greatest artists of all time.
1. The Very Thought of You (1938)
“The Very Thought of You” is a classic love song written by Ray Noble in 1934, with the most famous recording being Nat King Cole’s in 1958. The song’s gentle melody and romantic lyrics express the feelings of a lover who can’t help but think of their significant other, even when they’re apart. The song’s timeless quality has made it a popular choice for weddings and romantic occasions, and it has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. “The Very Thought of You” remains a beloved classic of the Great American Songbook, a testament to the enduring power of love and romance in music.
2. Them There Eyes (1949)
“Them There Eyes” is a classic jazz standard first recorded in 1949 by Billie Holiday. The song’s lively tempo, swinging rhythm, and playful melody make it a timeless favorite among jazz fans. The lyrics, written by Maceo Pinkard, Doris Tauber, and William Tracey, celebrate the power of love and attraction, with the singer admiring the object of her affection’s eyes and the way they make her feel. Holiday’s soulful vocals bring an extra layer of charm and depth to the song, making it a must-listen for anyone who appreciates the magic of classic jazz.
3. You’re My Thrill (1946)
“You’re My Thrill” is a romantic ballad originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1946. The song features Holiday’s signature emotional and expressive vocals over a slow and dreamy instrumental arrangement. Written by Jay Gorney and Sidney Clare, the lyrics speak about the intoxicating power of love and the deep connection between two people. The song became a popular standard and has been covered by many artists over the years, including Chet Baker, Doris Day, and Diana Krall. “You’re My Thrill” remains a timeless classic, capturing the essence of love and passion with its haunting melody and poignant lyrics.
4. Travelin’ Light (1942)
“Travelin’ Light” is a classic jazz song written by Trummy Young and Jimmy Mundy in 1942. The song’s smooth melody and romantic lyrics evoke the feeling of setting out on a journey with a loved one, and the promise of adventure and excitement that lies ahead. The song has been covered by numerous jazz artists over the years, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Shirley Horn, and has become a beloved classic of the genre. “Travelin’ Light” is a timeless tribute to the spirit of wanderlust and the joy of exploring the world with someone special by your side.
5. I’m Gonna Lock My Heart (1938)
“I’m Gonna Lock My Heart” is a classic jazz standard first recorded in 1938 by Billie Holiday. The song’s melancholic melody, haunting lyrics, and Holiday’s signature emotive vocals make it a heartbreaking yet beautiful love song. The lyrics, written by Jimmy Eaton and Terry Shand, express the singer’s decision to protect her heart and emotions from the pain of love, after being hurt in the past. Holiday’s raw and soulful delivery conveys the depth of her emotions, making “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart” a timeless classic that continues to resonate with listeners today.
6. Lover Boy (1941)
“Lover Boy” is a popular swing jazz song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1941. The song features a catchy and upbeat melody, with lyrics that speak of a woman’s infatuation with a charming and alluring lover. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, including Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and Diana Krall. “Lover Boy” remains a beloved classic of the swing era, capturing the playful and romantic spirit of the time with its infectious rhythm and charming lyrics.
7. Easy Living’ (1937)
“Easy Living” is a classic jazz song written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger in 1937. The song’s smooth melody and dreamy lyrics evoke a feeling of relaxation and contentment, and have made it a favorite of jazz musicians and fans for generations. The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. “Easy Living” remains a beloved classic of the Great American Songbook, a testament to the enduring power of jazz music to transport listeners to a place of tranquility and ease.
8. Blue Moon (1952)
“Blue Moon” is a classic song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934. The song’s melancholy melody and poignant lyrics express the pain of lost love, and have made it a favorite of singers and listeners alike. The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday. “Blue Moon” remains a beloved classic of the Great American Songbook, a testament to the enduring power of music to express the deepest emotions of the human heart. Its haunting melody and evocative lyrics continue to captivate listeners to this day.
9. Solitude (1956)
“Solitude” is a classic jazz standard composed by Duke Ellington with lyrics by Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills. The song’s poignant melody and melancholic lyrics express the pain of loneliness and the longing for human connection. The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong. “Solitude” remains a beloved classic of the jazz repertoire, a testament to the power of music to capture the deepest emotions of the human experience. Its haunting melody and heart-wrenching lyrics continue to resonate with listeners to this day.
10. Strange Fruit (1939)
“Strange Fruit” is a powerful and haunting protest song originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. The song features Holiday’s emotive and soulful vocals over a sparse and haunting instrumental arrangement. Written by Abel Meeropol, the lyrics speak about the horrific practice of lynching in the Southern United States, condemning the brutal violence and racism perpetuated by white supremacists. The song became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and a timeless classic of Holiday’s catalog, showcasing her unique ability to use music to shed light on important social issues. “Strange Fruit” remains a powerful and poignant reminder of the enduring struggle for racial justice and human rights.