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Billie Holiday: Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944

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illustration of Billie Holiday

“This month there has been a real find in the person of a singer named Billie Halliday [sic],” wrote John Hammond in the British monthly Melody Maker in April 1933. The fledgling columnist had stopped by a small Harlem nightspot named Monette’s, expecting to find Monette Moore in front of the piano; the busy proprietress, to Hammond’s surprise, had been replaced by a talented newcomer. “[A]lthough only 18,” he remarked, “she weighs over 200 lbs…is incredibly beautiful and sings as well as anybody I ever heard.”

These words, the first published account of Holiday’s singing, would have consequences beyond the usual public endorsement. The enthusiastic Hammond, only four years her senior, had begun to dabble in producing and frequently put his money where his mouth was. He arranged for her to record on a session led by Benny Goodman (whose orchestra he would help form a year later). Holiday tackled two tunes, “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch,” on Nov. 27, 1933. While neither proved particularly successful-she only returned to the studio some 19 months later, experience having replaced some baby fat under her belt-the date would begin a relationship with Hammond that lasted from this, her first recording, through her 150th, nine years later.

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