The Jazzcat

Billie and Me: A Tribute to Billie Holiday at the Bovard Auditorium

by on Nov.13, 2005, under News


Slide Show

Nancy Wilson walks out onto a colorful stage at the Bovard

Auditorium on the campus of USC. With that enchanted voice singing and

a larger-than-life slideshow of our favorite jazz heroine in the

background, Nancy

Wilson greets and gives homage to the one and only Billie Holiday. It

is so

wonderful to have the music, life and style of Billie Holiday

celebrated, as oppose to all of the other tragic stories that we have heard

about her and many of our fallen jazz heroes.


The show is broken down into segments; Nancy narrates between pieces as she tells

some great stories and a little history of Billie’s childhood and path to

stardom. Niki Harris and Joan Osborne start off the music performances with a

duo. These are two women whose voices pack some serious power in the delivery

of their lyrics.


The band is directed

by Teri Lynne Carrington and she has

assembled a cast of great players to lay down a lovely bed of


rhythm for our four vocal queens of the evening. These four worlds of

music–Jazz, Rock, Rhythm and Blues, and music from the

motherland–come together uniquely,

individually and collectively to represent and delve into the heart and


behind the music of Billie Holiday.



The rich and comforting voice of Dianne Reeves lays down a

full blanket of love with her version of “I Cover the Waterfront.” She has

such command of voice that scatting is only one of the many languages that she

musically masters. Joan Osborne tore up, “Lover Man” in a super soulful, upbeat

rendition of the tune. Niki Harris blows you away with the blues and makes the

Bovard Auditorium feel like a Roman Coliseum, while Rokia

Traoré, sang a complex African version of  “The Man I Love” that lifted you up

and transcended you right to the middle of Mali

in West Africa. Teri Lynne arranged some very

interesting and special versions of Billie’s tunes for these women.



times during the performance, we had the

opportunity to hear some wonderful clips of Billie–not just her

singing, but

also her hangin' with the cats. You might imagine what you would hear

with one

drop of woman in a large pond of men, but for the most part, the cats


respectful. Her sound was original and her voice fit in as another


instrument in the band. Musicians loved her way of maneuvering,


about and hanging on to phrases; sucking all of the emotion out until

there was nothing left but the poison of still silence– talking,

dangling, bleeding.


Billie started recording at the age of 17 and she played

with some of the most incredible musicians of the day: cats like Prez, Buck

Clayton, Benny Carter, Mal Waldron. Many of these players also became her

best friends. The public did not always understand her music. By and large, it

usually takes time for the masses to catch up and catch on to the artistry of a

true genius. Billie did not look at herself that way, but in retrospect,

her purity and willingness to put her life, love and tragedy on the bandstand

was mastery.


Dianne and Rokia sang a haunting rendition of  “Strange Fruit”

that gave you a visual not to ever forget. Their voices blended together and

seemed to represent today on this land and yesterday on the motherland. It was

so important that this tune was written, recorded and immortalized as a

significant shame in the minds of humanity. Can you imagine Billie singing this

tune, at that time, in the South? Hopefully this is one of the many lessons,

evils and wrongs that the world can learn from. And it all came from a little

girl from Philly who grew up in Baltimore

and learned to teach us the ways of the world as she lived her life.



The performance ended with all of the queens of music

singing together. So inspired by the sound, Nancy Wilson hopped out of

retirement and right into five-part harmony. Billie Holiday's music is to always

be treasured. Her sound, style and image of iconic gardenias will always rank

at the top part of the great history of American music.


LeRoy Downs



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