There are millions of people who love Billie Holiday as much as I do. There are also millions of others who view her as irrelevant to our modern music scene, and millions more who don’t know her. When was the last time you heard a young musician list the impeccable Billie Holiday as their influence. Unfortunately she is trapped in the past, much like her song Yesterdays, forgotten and overlooked. But all that aside I would like to make a case, and a very personal one at that, for Billie Holiday; for her voice, for her art, for her relevance, for her spirit, and most of all for her humanity.
She unlocks memories and unleashes a bitter nostalgia. But she can also bury, with a ravenous pity, her past with a simple song. Her songs are so unbearably bare and honest and raw that I could never bring myself to watch videos of her singing because her voice haunts me enough I cannot imagine what her expression can add to this experience. Billie Holiday is more than haunting, her voice is sultry and sumptuous. She leads you down a road she does not know; she doesn't even know where it leads. When she sings she only hopes to ease the swelling of her soul and heal the scars on her heart. She does this regardless of the lyrics or the song. And when we listen we engage ourselves in a deep and reverent process of self-reflection and empathy.
Her work needs not be remixed or remastered for modern audiences to appreciate the absolute gem that she was; her talent is storytelling, that archaic and utterly human practice. Some people when they are gone we mourn them; like with loved ones. Some people when they are gone we mourn ourselves; like with Nelson Mandela. And some people when they are gone we do not mourn we reflect, reminisce, and appreciate instead. Billie Holiday needs no mourning or longing or applause. She deserves that we continue to listen, in absolute awe of her devastatingly honest humanity.