Even Divas are Underappreciated…

Years ago Lady in Satin was my introduction to Billie Holiday, and the experience set me off her music for an extended period of time. But something about it kept whispering from the folds of my memory, and as my experience with Lady  Day’s music (as well as jazz in general) grew over the years, so has my appreciation for Lady  in Satin, Holliday’s haunting swan song. It’s not really jazz at all—it’s Billie’s instantly recognizable growl wrapped in the “satin” of almost unbearably saccharine string arrangements—but somehow, it transforms into musical magic. This last time around, as my boyfriend listened to it for the first time with tears in his eyes, I finally realized the greatness of Lady in Satin: in twelve quick tracks Lady Day channels all of the pain, joy and paralyzing heartbreak of her difficult life into what should be light, bouncy love songs, transforming them into brief vignettes of tragedy and desperation. The emotions of this album—overwhelming, even suffocating—makes what I think is one of the great vocal performances ever recorded.

My return to Lady in Satin came in response to my acquisition of Diana Ross’s Blue, the supposedly long-lost album of recordings for Lady Sings the Blues. Taking on a number of classics Lady Day made famous, Ross does herself proud with her switch from Motown to jazz, and what they lack in sheer musical and emotional weight they make up for in sheer buoyancy and a sense of fun and freshness. It’s saying a lot that I actually prefer her version of “I Loves You Porgy” to my goddess Nina Simone, who I consider supreme of all musicians. The hype is definitely true: this is a genuine treasure to emerge from the vaults.

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6 thoughts on “Even Divas are Underappreciated…

  1. I agree. It is truly one of the great vocal performances ever recorded. You’ve given a beautiful summation of this vastly underrated album in one eloquent paragraph. Thank you.

  2. Very well written. You helped put into words, that which I could only feel. I, myself, really enjoy listening to Lady in Satin. I also agree that “I Loves You Porgy” in the voice of Diana is incomparable.

  3. Thank you, both–this was my first attempt at writing about music, and it’s a difficult thing to do, so I applaud those who do it regularly. Didn’t realize you were a Lady Day fan, Pablo, or Diana Ross either. :)

  4. Yes, I am a fan. It was at a very young age that I was gifted with the sound of Diana’s voice. She would later be the one to expose me to the “growl” of Lady Day.

  5. BLUE is indeed a great “treasure” that I’m glad is no longer being hoarded. Thank you again for giving it to me.
    I sometimes think how the listening experience would have been if I were a child; would it have had the same impact on me?
    I wish I could say the same for “I Love You,” but I bet we both agree that it just doesn’t measure up. She did kick ass on that show you forced me to watch- what was it??
    By the way, you forgot to mention that I also got teary-eyed with this one in addition to “Lady in Satin.” I won’t respond to that one because you already did for me.
    I do hope you continue writing reviews on music. You write well.
    **Don’t forget to post your “Cléo” inspired poem on here. It’s a great poetic review!

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