In 1915 the queen of Jazz was born in Philadelphia. Eleanor Fagan Gough, known to many as Billie Holiday, began her singing career in the vibrant jazz-era scene of Baltimore and gained popularity later during the Harlem Renaissance. Her voice, cadence, and persona would go on to uniquely shape and change the future of jazz music around the world.
Self-taught and self-made, her music showed women what was possible in the male-dominated industry of the jazz era. She never received formal training or learned how to read music, but her raw talent and natural ability made her a larger than life feminine icon. She was raw, vulnerable, and always immaculately dressed.
Although she is mostly known for her musical masterpieces, she was also revered as a fashion icon to many. Like a song, she could take an outfit and make it her own. Billie wore neutral toned dresses that accentuated her figure and outwardly showed her confidence. While others wore billowing skirts and cinched waisted dresses, Billie set trends by showing off her curves. Often, with her iconic Gardenia flower in her ear, she would sing and talk to her audience with a realness that was unheard of at the time.
What has always drawn me to Billie and her work is that she never tried to be like anyone else. Instead of following the rest, she pioneered her own Billie style both in fashion and music. As she once said, “If I am going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.”
Billie Holiday had a vision and stayed true to her work as an artist. In this world, everyone’s voice and vision is uniquely important. That is true in fashion as much as it is in music. It is so important to believe in yourself and stay true to your vision. Billie’s strength, vulnerability, distinct style, and confidence are aspects of her persona that we all can learn from. Come with me as I pay homage to a truly inspiring woman and someone who has helped guide my compass as an artist and creative.