Billie Holiday was thirteen to fourteen years old when she sang in her first club in Harlem, New York. She was nineteen when her first recordings, “Riffin’ the Scotch” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” were commercially released. One of her biggest hits was “Strange Fruit,” originally written as a poem by Abel Meeropol, protesting the lynching of Black Americans. Throughout the 1930s alone, Billie Holiday recorded and released at least 40 songs—5 of which she wrote herself—all while continuing to perform in clubs and tour with bands and orchestras.
“When she rehearsed with the band, it was really just a matter of getting her tunes like she wanted them, because she knew how she wanted to sound and you couldn’t tell her what to do.”
—American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer Count Basie
While she did not grow up in Philadelphia, she would often return to our city to perform in venues such as the Earle Theater, The Academy of Music, The Cheeko Club, Emerson’s, and the Show Boat in the basement of what was the Douglass Hotel, right behind the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Lombard Street.
This timeline below cannot encompass Billie Holiday’s entire life and recording history, given how vast it is, but it does give an overview of her incredible life, dedication to her craft, and her achievements as a singer, lyricist, and performer.