This Day in Black History: March 27, 1948

Billie Holiday performs before a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Posted: 03/27/2014 12:00 AM EDT
This Day in Black History: March 27, 1948

In was on March 27, 1948, that Billie Holiday made her first appearance as a headliner at New York City’s renowned Carnegie Hall to a sold-out audience. The appearance of the jazz singer and music legend took place just days after Holiday had been released from jail on a drug charge.

Holiday was said to have been so nervous before the performance that she pricked herself while pinning a gardenia in her hair. Nonetheless, it was a celebrated performance with the high point being her rendition of the song “Strange Fruit.” The Amsterdam News said that the song was done “with the hall in complete darkness and a single spotlight etching her face.”

The Carnegie Hall performance came during a high point in Holiday’s career. Indeed, she had a profound influence on American jazz singing, with a vocal style largely inspired by the effect of instrumentalists in that realm of music.

Holiday was born in 1915 in Philadelphia and spent much of her years in Harlem. By the late 1950s, her career – and health – suffered as a result of drug usage. She also had abusive relationships with men. Holiday died in 1959 at age 44 in New York City.

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(Photo: William Gottlieb/Redferns)

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