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.
Do You Take it for Granted?
Headlines read that several Asian-American women are murdered in cold blood in Atlanta. Several years ago, we read about a black congregation in Charleston, South Carolina is attacked and numerous people lose their lives. Systemic racism. Do you take this for granted and think that you are not affected, so what the hell? Are you white and think, “who cares?” Are you white and think you don’t believe this to be a serious matter, so just leave me alone. I don’t want contention.
Recently, a movie came out about the story of the despicable way black singer named Billy Holiday was treated by an FBI with a lunatic gay-bashing latent homosexual who dressed in drag, J. Edgar Hoover, emboldened his agents to attack black folks in false and foul ways. The movie is titled, The United States vs. Billy Holiday. It stars a performance befitting a person deserving an Oscar, Andra Day.
Brilliant performance, in the eyes of retired Professor Cornwell. Cornwell has always enjoyed the singing of Billy Holiday and Andra Day was able to imitate Holiday’s sound in a great way. A sound based on sensitivity as she sings, even if her style is different from what the high brow elitists might enjoy hearing. Professor Cornwell loves the sensitivity of the sounds of Renee Fleming’s voice within the genre she sings, but also finds a very sensitive voice in Billy Holiday, in the genre in which she sings. Professor Cornwell also recalls the sensitivity in the voice of Janis Joplin and in another different way.
Cornwell wonders, though. If the commentary to berate the voice of Billie Holiday due to being in the closet regarding racism and covering over such feelings of racism by casting aspersions on Holiday’s voice? Is it mirroring and loving the actions of Harry Anslinger (actor Garrett Hedlund) who was doing the duty assigned to him to take down Billie Holiday, due to her song, “Strange Fruit,” while hiding the actions behind a veneer of law and order against drugs? In this way, do you take it for granted that there is nothing serious about what Billie Holiday was trying to speak out with regard to the Dixie lynchings?
In that case, then you must think the truth hurts and this is the manner to which you are accustomed and hope to continue the status quo, ignoring the truth. The truth will set all of us free, even if it hurts, even when you do not lose a life, as was the case of those lynched in the South or in the case of the Asian-Americans who were recently viciously shot in Atlanta when they did not deserve such a fate. No one who has faced such things has deserved such a bloody ordeal.
Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are affected.”
Commentary, New Comments