Billie Holiday in concert this weekend. Relevant on a lot of levels; you can choose any or all you want to, Billie Holiday was a symbol, not only as an artist who overcame prejudice and demons (off and on), her story, struggles and message left an impact on the Music world that has only become more pronounced over the years. Popular during a time segregation was prevalent everywhere, even in the concert hall – struggling with a Heroin addiction that banned her from singing in certain cities (like New York where a Cabaret License was everything) and overcoming the prevailing attitudes towards Women, especially in music where a Female singer was marginalized and had to overcome enormous obstacles to break the mold of a pretty face that sat patiently waiting for her cue.
Those were times where odds were stacked against you; double if you were a Black Woman. And Billie Holiday’s struggles were the stuff of books and essays by the leading Jazz critics of the day.
This concert, from the Embassy Theatre in Los Angeles from 1946 is believed to be part of the series of concerts put on by Disc-Jockey and early promotor Gene Norman in which most were broadcast locally. The concerts themselves were groundbreaking because the audience was racially mixed, as were the musicians on stage. Many of the broadcasts from the Just Jazz series had been issued commercially and were significant in that they did a lot to promote small group Jazz and helped usher in Bop during the Post-World War 2 years. Norman was one of the prominent early promoters of “new music”, as well as doing his bit to further the cause of R&B to a White market, at a time when Rhythm & Blues was confined to “Race Music” labels and radio stations throughout the U.S.
But this Billie Holiday concert hasn’t been issued, and even though it’s a mystery why it wasn’t commercially released at the time, the fact that it exists at all is something to be exited about. Like the interview she did at KNX in L.A. in the mid-1950s that was never broadcast, so many of these documents have been lost over time – or are in hiding, waiting to be discovered and brought to the light of day. This is one of those documents that serves to shed further light on one of the great artists of our time.