*(Los Angeles) — Billie Holiday (1915-1959) was a trail-blazing musical artist, known as perhaps the first female vocalist to use her voice in the style of jazz improvisation. Recording first with Benny Goodman, she became the first Black female vocalist to front a white band, that of Artie Shaw. She also performed with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. She had long professional associations with saxophonist Lester Young (who named her Lady Day; she called him Prez) and pianist Teddy Wilson.
Born to poverty in Philadelphia, she was a victim of sexual assault while still a child and sentenced by the court to a Catholic correctional institution. It was only her first experience with the court, however. She was convicted at age 13 (along with her mother) of prostitution. Subsequent arrests involved possession of narcotics and substance abuse.
Despite a turbulent life, abusive relationships, and racism, she prevailed to become one of the greatest jazz and blues artists of her time, before her untimely demise at age 42 from cirrhosis of the liver. In addition to multiple hit recordings, she sold out Carnegie Hall three times.
Writer-performer Sybil Harris brings her story to vibrant life in the new show Billie Holiday: Front and Center. Ms. Harris portrays multiple characters and sings a selection of songs that comprise an array of Holiday’s greatest hits, among them God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, All of Me, Don’t Explain, My Man, Good Morning Heartache, many more. Ms. Harris is accompanied by a live jazz ensemble.
Sybil Harris is a Phoenix native who first portrayed Holiday in the touring musical Sang Sista Sang, produced by Smokey Robinson, Mickey Stephenson and B’Anca. Harris’ other stage credits include The Music Man, Jesus Christ Superstar, Bubbling Brown Sugar, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Little Shop of Horrors, Simply Heavenly and her own show Just Let Me Sing. Her film and TV credits include Deliver Us From Eva, Two Can Play That Game, The Sarah Silverman Show, Strong Medicine and more.
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