MOVIE REVIEW: The United States vs. Billie Holiday
With wonderful Legends Radio (WLML 100.3 FM) in Palm Beach County, I often listened to many singers of the Great American Songbook. Driving home from my work as a professor in Lake Worth, FL, I would have my radio tuned to Lorna O’Connell on Legends Radio, listening to songs “spun” by a wonderful person who would share quite a bit of information about the music she played. There were many artists, from early American jazz and swing bands to contemporary artists singing GAS, such as Michael Bublé, John Pizzarelli, Ann Hampton Callaway, Rod Stewart, Tony Danza, Sir Paul McCartney and many others. We have been able to listen to others, like Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, Keeley Smith and her husband, Louis Prima.
At least once, every hour, we listened to a selection by Frank Sinatra. We also have had the opportunity to listen to other members of the “Rat Pack,” from Dean Martin to Sammy Davis, Jr. Many others, too numerous to mention now.
One of my favorites was singer, Billy Holiday. I fell in love with Billie Holiday’s unique form of singing. “All of Me” and many others were songs I wanted to hear.
I knew about Holiday’s life as I have read about her and had seen Diana Ross in the 1972 film, Lady Sings the Blues. The latest film about Billie Holiday, starring Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday. I learned much more about this great lady who was trashed by the forces of J. Edgar Hoover, NEEDLESSLY, led by Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry J. Anslinger. Sad to learn about the shameful award presented by President John F. Kennedy to Anslinger. Shameful, shameful, shameful. According to other sources, JFK had denied Sammy Davis, Jr., an invitation to his inaugural ball, causing a rift between Frank Sinatra and JFK. Puts JFK down a few notches in my mind. Frank Sinatra purportedly worked to stop the lousy treatment of Sammy Davis, Jr., by white segregationists at hotels where the “Rat Pack” appeared. Shameful, shameful, shameful.
One of the most shameful stories about an African-American is the way Billie Holiday was treated by the lousy latent homosexual and “drag queen,” J. Edgar Hoover. While Hoover is never mentioned in the film, but if one has any knowledge about this lousy figure, they would understand what I am saying regarding the work of Anslinger.
Billy Holiday was also really twisted around by the man she married and the man who truly had a love for her, James “Jimmie” Fletcher. Fletcher, the role played in the film by Trevante Rhodes, is an agent of the FBI who double-crossed Billy, but then did a turnaround. The portrayal of this situation really leads us to wonder whether we should admire Fletcher or not? I must say that Rhodes was part of a great cast who performed admirably and effectively as they portrayed the life which surrounded Billy Holiday.
The theme of this film is about Billie Holiday standing up and not backing down in defending what was the truth and knowledge about the truth. She sang a song, “Strange Fruit,” which is a poem written about the lousy Jim Crow treatment of black folks when they were lynched. When this song was played at a Black History Month event at the college library where I was a professor, the young people, of all skin colors, were in tears. That might be sad, but the truth sometimes hurts. However, the “truth will set you free.” Sad to say, Billy Holiday wanted this truth to set her and her people free, but she ended up being arrested several times, under the smoke screen of partaking of drugs, for which many white people do and never get imprisoned for doing so. One can justify the “truth setting her free” because she died and went to heaven, but I find that disgusting of people who refuse to fight the hell on earth. Anslinger arrests Billy Holiday while she is on her death bed. Shameful lousy human being was this man whom so many admire and JFK gave an award. May those who admire this piece of you know what go to hell. I am not GOD to be able to judge this, but I sure can hope that such people do because they work to create a hell on earth and divide America.
God bless Billy Holiday, a person who was raped at age 14. “God bless the child.” For Billie Holiday sang a song which was NOT a “song of the South,” but one which inspired lousy southern white supremacists to object. These foul folks of Dixie objected so strongly that they tried to find anything under the sun against Billie Holiday. They got her. Shameful people. Disgusting people.
After watching Billy Holiday performed by Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues, I have a benchmark to compare the performances. Although I bought so many of the Diana Ross and the Supremes albums as a kid and adored their singing, I must say this. Andra Day’s performance of Billy Holiday surpasses that of Diana Ross. Ms. Day’s speaking voice sounded so much like Billy Holiday. But one has to explore whether it was like a Marni Nixon dubbing for actress Audrey Hepburn, in the role of Eliza Doolittle, in My Fair Lady or not. According to sources I checked, Andra Day did all of the singing. WOW! She did such a great job and deserves an Academy Award for her performance!
One more thing. Up until I viewed this film this past week (on Netflix), I had read about claims that Billy Holiday committed suicide. It appears this FAKE story was one more attempt to put Ms. Holiday down, by white supremacists.
Again. God bless Billy Holiday. And thank you, Andra Day, for your performance of Ms. Holiday.