Happy Birthday Billie Holiday: A Poem for Lady Day

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Today, marks, what would have been, Billie Holiday’s 99th birthday. Most who know me, know that I consider Lady Day to be one of my main auntcestors. I imagine she’s looking out for me daily, applauding me when I make my fiercest decisions, and encouraging me to speak my mind when I doubt myself. Her voice was introduced to me as a child by an older neighbor, Miss Madeline. Miss Madeline also happened to look a lot like Billie Holiday in her youth, and enjoyed sharing tales of having an affair with Billie Holiday’s ex-husband.

While there are many other titillating stories connected to Lady Day, her sexuality, and her addiction to the white stuff, I’ve always been obsessed with Holiday’s voice and the work she did for Black people. I’ve felt so connected with Billie Holiday’s story that I spent a year and a half of grad school researching Holiday’s career in music and activism. My Master’s thesis was called, “Is This Mic On?: Reclaiming Billie Holiday and Nina Simone,” and my project worked to uncover the multiple ways that both Nina Simone and Billie Holiday paved the way for and supported the Civil Rights Movement. Both of these women risked their careers and lives for the movement, but are rarely honored as the activists they were. I plan to spend some more time on my blog to extrapolate on this statement, but for now, I would like to honor Billie Holiday’s birthday by sharing the poem that opens my thesis chapter on Lady Day, “Lady Sings More then the Blues; She Sings Revolution.”

“Willow Weep for Me”

She haunts me

Willow weep for me

She haunts us

Willow…

Her voice stops

When their pen begins

Describing

Transcribing

A tragedy of another buxom

Black Lady/girl singer

Whose voice gets silenced

By the ruckus of ‘others’ addiction

To trope-laden fairytales

Where White is right

And she is just a Lady of the Night

Having love affairs with abusive men

Covered in white powder poison–

Unable to save herself

Unable to save the voice They love(d) so much

Willow weep for me

Hear that?

Willow weep for me

Juslisen

Willow…

She speaks to me (to us)

Haunting modern-day ‘fans’ with a story left untold

Though always playing

Over the clicking of forks and credit card receipts

Screaming, through silence, to reclaim her voice

From those who muffled it

With their Blues Lady/girl storytale

Listen to my plea

She has something to say

Hear Me Willow

I’m listening, Ms. Lady Day

Lady Day once sang the Blues

Lady Day once lived Revolution

But memories of those days have been lost

Behind the shuffle of Diana Ross’

acting debut

Behind Holiday students’ and supposed friends’

desire for 15 minutes of fame

while playing pretend

of ‘truth’ seekers

‘truth’ tellers

Weep!

I’ve wept, Ms. Day

For Me

For you, Ms. Day

And through those tears

And through your plea

I’ve tried to scribble down these notes

You’ve left for me (for us)

Notes of skill, of resistance, of courage,

Of will, of persistence, of Mastery

A story called:

Lady Sings More than the Blues: She Sings Revolution.

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