Billie Holiday

image for Billie Holiday
Exhibition Label
Renowned for making songs her own, Billie Holiday once explained, "I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know." This attitude characterized not only her singing style but her life as well. Having endured a difficult childhood, Holiday moved to New York City in 1927. Although intent on fashioning a musical career, she began performing to supplement her meager income as a housemaid. Success onstage led to recording opportunities and, beginning in 1937, a close working relationship with Count Basie's band. Holiday later joined the Artie Shaw Orchestra, becoming one of the first African American singers to headline an all-white band. Despite the stardom she achieved, Holiday suffered various personal crises during the last two decades of her life, several of which were the result of drug and alcohol abuse.
Sid Grossman, 1913 - 1955
Billie Holiday, 7 Apr 1915 - 17 Jul 1959
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Restrictions & Rights
© Miriam Grossman Cohen, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
c. 1948
Object number
Billie Holiday: Female
Billie Holiday: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Jazz
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.5 x 27.2 cm (13 3/16 x 10 11/16")
Mat: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22")
National Portrait Gallery