The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


meet the curator :: Blog

Women Who Rock spotlight: Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday

Wednesday, July 6: 3:38 p.m.
Billie Holiday's fur stole in the Museum's Women Who Rock exhibit

I saw the film Lady Sings the Blues, starring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Diana Ross, when I was about 11 years old.  One of the images in the movie that still resonates with me is one in which the around 11-year-old Billie Holiday, circa 1926, is working as a cleaning and errand girl for a Baltimore “house of ill-repute.” When she is supposed to be scrubbing the front stoop, she sneaks away and spends most of her time leaning over the Victrola in the brothel parlor, cranking up Bessie Smith’s latest hit, “’Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do.” She plays the record over and over, singing along, studying every note and syllable. So, that film was not only my introduction to Billie Holiday, it was also my introduction to Bessie Smith, and an important lesson in how artists pass the cultural torch. Watching Diana Ross’ portrayal of Billie Holiday learning from Bessie Smith, I recognized the same way that I studied every Supremes’ 45 on my old Sears Silvertone. I can imagine Lady GaGa at 11 years old, listening to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” on her Walkman in exactly the same way. Seeing Lady Sings ...


continue Categories: Event, Exhibit
Page 1 of 1.