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Who Were Lady Day and Mister? Singer Billie Holiday and Her Dog

Jazz singer Billie Holiday was born on April 7, 1915, in Baltimore, Md. You can learn what happened in the past on any day in April (or any day of the year) in Today in History.

Lady Day and Mister Ella Fitzgerald

Holiday made her professional singing debut in Harlem nightclubs in 1931, and made her first recordings in 1933. Although she had no formal musical training, she became one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, and her recordings are now regarded as masterpieces.

Holiday's given name was Eleanora Fagan, but when she started to perform she chose the stage name Billie after Billie Dove, an early movie star. She was nicknamed "Lady Day" by musician Lester Young, and she often wore white gardenias fastened in her hair when performing. She worked with many jazz greats including Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Louis Armstrong. She died at age 44 on July 17, 1959, in New York City.

Billie Holiday is one of several singers photographed by William P. Gottlieb and seen in Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz. His portrait of Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) from 1946 (below), shows the singer at the height of her career. Another great photographer of jazz artists was Carl Van Vechten. His photographs of musicians and other performers are in Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964.

The history of jazz, an art form that developed in America, can be traced through many collections in American Memory in addition to the two mentioned above. For example, you can search American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1940 on the term “jazz” for a variety of stories about the beginning of the jazz era. Go to the American Memory Collection Finder Search and type in “jazz” for even more images, sheet music, sound recordings, manuscripts and other items from the Library of Congress.

The Music Division of the Library of Congress houses one of the finest collections of resources in music, theater and dance in the world. Some of the most important materials in the division are highlighted in Special Collections of the Music Division.

A. Portrait of Billie Holiday and Mister, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Call No.: LC-GLB23- 0428. Reproduction No.: LC-GLB23-0428 DLC (b&w film neg.)

B. Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, New York, N.Y., ca. Nov. 1946. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Call No.: LC-GLB23- 1147. reproduction No.: LC-GLB23-1147 DLC (b&w film neg.)