It’s widely known that Billie Holiday suffered from a heroin addiction. They couldn’t indict her on singing, so instead they used her weakness to muffle her voice and stifle its reach. They put a bullseye on her weathered back with no consideration for her awful past or mental health. This was a woman who spent much of her childhood in a brothel; a woman who was encouraged to begin prostituting at age 14 by her own mother. Being a woman is challenging. Being a Black woman in America during Jim Crow surely came with some PTSD. Holiday was self-medicating, yet her greatest addiction wasn’t to whiskey or heroin. Her lifeline was singing what was in her soul: pain. Pain that she and other members of her race suffered at the hands of the United States of America for centuries. For Holiday, her singing was sort of like self-administered chemotherapy — she was constantly trying to croon and belt the cancer up and out of her body. To stop singing the truth would’ve killed her faster than any narcotic.
Billie Holiday may have lost the physical battle, but her beautiful brass voice won the war.