When most of us hear the name Billie Holiday (or the nickname Lady Day), the first thing that usually comes to mind is “singer extraordinaire.” A woman who possesses a voice that is legen…wait for it…dary.
She is known for her songs “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless The Child” and many many more in her legendary discography. Holiday garnered worldwide fame for her voice which truly conveys jazz’s influence on American pop culture. Sadly, Holiday’s own true life tragedies provided the pain for which she sang the blues. What is lesser known about Holiday is her deep devotion to dogs. Clearly there is more to this chanteuse than meets the eye – or the ear!
Billie Holiday was born on April 7th, 1915 in Philadelphia. Growing up during the Great Depression was a harrowing experience and Holiday led an extremely difficult life, even beyond economic oppression. A survivor of sexual assault as a young girl — who later worked as a prostitute alongside her mother at the age of fourteen — Holiday encountered the darkest sides of humanity. Fortunately, with all of the chaos and hardships in her life, she was able to seek solace in her love for dogs.
Holiday’s dogs acted as her rock when her personal life and career were unfulfilling. Dealing with racism in the music industry, abusive relationships and past trauma took a huge toll on her, which resulted in drug and alcohol addiction, stints in jail, and various other legal troubles. Despite Holiday’s plight, someone with a talent like hers will always shine, no matter how challenging the circumstances.
Holiday’s life was filled with dogs of all shapes, sizes, and breeds. She even had a small Poodle that could fit in her coat pocket! (Oh what? – You thought Paris Hilton started the teeny tote pup trend?) Holiday had Chihuahuas named Chiquita and Pepe, a Great Dane named Gypsy, a Terrier named Bessie Mae Moocho (Get it?!), but the supreme love of her life was a grumpy Boxer named Mister. Who needs a bodyguard when you can have a Boxer?
The former Broadway hit “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” starring Tony-Award winning singer Audra McDonald depicted how dogs were an integral part of Holiday’s life.
Billie Holiday continues to be an inspiration to us all – not only through her music, but also through her passion for dogs. Now when you think of Holiday with her angelic voice and white Gardenia in her hair, don’t forget that there was a dog by her side cheering her along the whole way!
Sources: NYTimes, The Bark, UrbanHounds, Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and The Dog Who Loved Her