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When Billie Holiday Came to Boston

Remembering Lady Day’s final recording, 60 years after her death

Billie Holiday at Storyville, Boston, April 24. 1959
Billie Holiday at Storyville, Boston, April 24, 1959 (photo: Mel Levine)

Boston’s Kenmore Square is the conflux of streets that have long seemed to come together for one central purpose: to sweep passersby in the direction of Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox Nine, which is just over a rise that crosses the Mass Pike. Fans of rock & roll trivia know it for some non-sporty reasons. For more than 20 years, there was a club here called the Rathskeller—the Rat in local parlance—where scores of punk bands raged. The Beatles stayed at a hotel not far down the road on their final tour.

There is also a nondescript Pizzeria Uno housed in the Hotel Buckminster, an oblong building resembling a shoebox with curved ends. On the side of the street that most often remains in shade, heading toward Boston University, one finds a tiny placard informing those who elect to look—and I never have seen anyone do so—that this eatery used to be the jazz club Storyville.

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Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature—for a wide range of publications. He also talks regularly on the radio for the likes of NPR and Downtown with Rich Kimball. His most recent book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls (Tailwinds), was published in 2019, with an entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club to follow in 2020. Find him on the web at (where you’ll also find his unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.