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Top 10 Billie Holiday Songs

The impact Billie Holiday songs had on the jazz and jazz-singing genre is impossible to over-estimate. Holiday made her recording debut in 1933 in a band led by Benny Goodman, and continued working up until her death in 1959. The 10 Billie Holiday songs included here are all classics, as are many others she recorded, providing a brief but vivid picture of jazz singing's greatest stylist.
10
'Sugar'
This nugatory little love song is an upbeat number backed by Teddy Wilson's Orchestra, so the playing across the board is top notch in the classic sense of swing. Even on this early recording, Holiday's voice is in well behind the swing beat and has a conversational signature style that would only become more pronounced with age.
09
'Ain't Nobody's Business if I Do'
This Billie Holiday song was written by Bessie Smith, who was a huge influence on Holiday's singing, and pushed her to mine a deeper set of emotions than jazz singers at the time were expected. This also functioned as Holiday's kiss off to all the gossips who focused on her troubled private life.
08
'What a Little Moonlight Can Do'
Here's a hard-swinging and upbeat tune from Holiday and a very hot band, which included Benny Goodman. Whereas so many of her classics focus of the aftermath of a broken down love affair, this one has the excitement and energy of the lovers falling in love with each other. Holiday sounds as if she's laughing as she sings it.
07
'Lover Man'
After having to reinvent old worn-out material for much of her early career, this hit from 1942 was written specifically for Holiday. On this slow-to -mid-tempo blues number, Holiday sounds less like the victim, and more like a sex-starved good-time girl looking for her playmate to come back for another round of fun. Racey, but beautifully rendered.
06
'Good Morning Heartache'
Rather than trying to chase away the blues, 'Good Morning Heartache' seems to invite it to have a seat and stay awhile. Here Holiday sings with a resignation that isn't that heavy, leading one to believe that she's completely content to have this ache haunt her thoughts for the rest of her life.
05
'Fine and Mellow'
There's two kinds blues, the happy kind and the sad kind. Released with 'Strange Fruit' on the b-side, this song's lighter tone definitely functions as a balance. That said, this is still the blues, and the inspiration of this song is the lowest of the low -- nevertheless she still can't help herself once he puts his mind to loving her.
Billie Holiday Fine and Mellow
04
'Lady Sings the Blues'
This slow blues track rendered by "Lady Day" features an opera diva-like intensity. Holiday didn't have the vocal range of Ella Fitzgerald and others, but she found all the right notes to project emotion. Here she goes from sad to resolute, singing that she'll never sing the blues again. A late-period classic and the name of her autobiography.
03
'Solitude'
This Billie Holiday song was written by Duke Ellington, but you'd never know it. Ellington's lush orchestral arrangement is reined in to allow Holiday to shine. The phrasing is classic Holiday, always a half beat behind but never out of step, as she stretches out words in unexpected directions, projecting a depth of emotion that is cavernous.
02
'God Bless the Child'
Holiday didn't write many songs, but this one she wrote in 1941 with Arthur Herzog, Jr. is as good as any she recorded. The song touts self-reliance and curses the money grubbers that prey on the weak, but there is a resignation to the delivery that makes her sound as if the sentiment is all in vain.
01
'Strange Fruit'
Topical songs typically don't become popular, so it's doubly remarkable that this song (written by Abel Meeropol under the pen name Lewis Allan) became so famous. The song is a vivid rendering of a lynching in the South at a time when segregation was still a way of life. The lyrics are almost too overwrought, but the singer sold it with her career-defining performance.

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