Born as Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia on 7 April 1915, Billie Holiday began singing in nightclubs as a teenager, where she was heard by the producer John Hammond, who commended her voice. She signed a recording contract with Brunswick Records in 1935. Collaborations with Teddy Wilson yielded the hit “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, which became a jazz standard. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, Holiday had mainstream success on labels such as Columbia Records and Decca Records. By the late 1940s, however, she was beset with legal troubles and drug abuse. After a short prison sentence, she performed a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, but her reputation deteriorated because of her drug and alcohol problems.

She continued as a concert performer throughout the 1950’s but drugs and alcohol abuse, coupled with a string of abusive relationships took their toll and caused her voice to wither. Her final recordings were met with mixed reaction to her damaged voice but were mild commercial successes. Her final album, ‘Lady in Satin’, was released in 1958. Holiday died of cirrhosis of the liver on 17 July 1959. A posthumous album, ‘Last Recording’, was released following her death.

One of Billie Holiday’s best known songs was Strange Fruit, recorded in the 1930’s. Kate created the sculpture Strange Fruit as a tribute to Billie Holiday for a War Child celebrity charity auction.

Kate about Billie Holiday

I think Billy Holiday hit me very strongly when I first heard her. I just couldn’t believe her voice, I mean it just made me want to cry, it was just amazing. And she’s very strongly Jazz and Blues, but there is something about it that I love. Maybe it’s the indulgence.

Personal Call, BBC Radio 1, 1979

I heard her when I was 14. I loved her upper range. What she says with her voice is so human and vulnerable.

Derek Jewell, ‘How to write songs and influence people’. Sunday Times (UK), 5 October 1980