Billie Holiday Front & Center

May 23, 2016

Billie-HolidaySybil Harris embodies Billie Holiday in Billy Holiday Front and Center at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena.

Harris played Holiday in the national tour of Sang Sista Sang, which was produced by Smokey Robinson, William Mickey Stephenson, and B’Anca.

Jazz musicians will accompany Harris as she sings Holiday’s most famous songs in this musical tribute, 101 years after her birth on April 7, 1915.

In its obituary, the New York Times stated the stark truth that Holiday “had been under arrest in her hospital bed since June 12 for illegal possession of narcotics. She died on July 17, 1959. The article proceeds to determine that Holiday “became a singer more out of desperation than desire,” having been born to a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old father. The article is rather cold in presenting the facts of Holiday’s life, except for this one sentence…

Miss Holiday set a pattern during her most fruitful years that has proved more influential than that of almost any other jazz singer, except the two who inspired her, Louis Armstrong and the late Bessie Smith.

Lily Rothmans, writing for Time magazine, reminds us that Holiday “was never a major record-sales success during her life.” She “didn’t fit with the era’s idea of what a blues singer should be.… Her range was small and she often sounded like she was talking rather than singing.” But one of her admirers was Frank Sinatra who “envied her diction,” and she hung around with the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Orson Welles.

Over the years, the roughness of her voice has imparted a sense of authenticity that has only been enhanced by the rock ethos that says that slick singing is further from artistic truth. But there was more to her music than sad songs. She sang every emotion there was, and she managed to make whatever it was believable. (“Billie Holiday’s Story Was Even More Complicated Than You Think” by Lily Rothman, Time, April 7, 2015)


Billie Holiday Front and Center opens May 27.

Billie Holiday Front and Center
May 27th-June 12, times vary
1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena 91030
Tickets: $15-$30; purchase at Brown Paper Tickets
Or call 1.626.441.5977


Sybil Harris

Sybil Harris





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