Getting a grip.
Yesterday was beautiful weather-wise but sometimes it isn’t enough to temper the gloom –the week-end stretched ahead with all the allure of a camping holiday in the rainy season in Barry. So I played some Billie and got to thinking about her tragic life.
She was born in 1915 in
Like her mother Sadie Fagan, who was rejected by her parents for
becoming pregnant aged 13, Billie had a difficult life and had dropped out of school
at 11. She was sent to a Catholic Reform
school and after 9 months was ‘paroled ‘to her mother who had opened a
restaurant – the Philadelphia East Side Grill.
Billie was raped by a neighbour aged 11 and by the age of 13 she had joined her mother in prostitution and both were jailed. On her release – aged 14 she started singing in nightclubs. Her reputation grew and she was signed to Brunswick Records. She was given full rein to improvise and to perform with some of the greatest musicians.
She worked for some time with Count Basie but after being fired she was hired by Artie Shaw and became one of the first black women to work with a white orchestra.However she was not allowed to sit at the band stand with the other vocalists – ‘because she was black.’
In 1938 she was asked to use the service elevator at the Lincoln Hotel because white patrons complained.
Her mother again started a restaurant called Ma
and soon was borrowing large amounts of money from Billie as the restaurant was
failing. When Billie herself fell upon
hard times she went to get some money from her mother.
‘Ma turned me down flat. She wouldn’t give me a cent.’
After a row Billie yelled:
‘God bless the child that‘s got his own.’
Later – with the help of Arthur Herzog Junior she wrote the song.
By 1944 she was having her own solo concerts but her drug addictions were a growing problem and most of her relationships were abusive.
In 1947 she was arrested for possessing and imprisoned. She was released in 1948 for good behaviour and in a short time was playing Carnegie Hall. She said she started using hard drugs in the early 1940’s.
Because of her conviction her New York City Cabaret Card was revoked which meant she was forbidden to perform anywhere that sold alcohol for the rest of her life.
By the 1950’s her health was deteriorating. Her autobiography – ‘Lady sings the Blues’ was published in 1956.
She died July 17th 1959 in hospital suffering from heart and liver disease – under arrest for illegal possession of narcotics.
It is almost four months since MTL died and I have found it takes at least that long to finally realise that I shall never see him again – in human form. It’s up to me to just get on with it and remember people like Billie and really count my blessings.