Billie Holiday

"The Centennial Collection"

(Legacy Recordings); Jazz

By ​Phil ​Bennett


April 7 would have been Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, and to celebrate, here’s a collection of 20 of her prime cuts.

Recorded between 1935 and 1945, these tracks really are timeless.

Listen closely to the slight quiver in her voice, that catching rasp in the back of her throat salting the honey, the way she holds some notes just a little longer than expected and you hear the voice of a real human being, the voice of experience.

And it’s this touch of reality that made Holiday such a game changer, an influence still felt today in everyone who steps up to a microphone.

Many of these tunes were the standard numbers of the day (These Foolish Things, You Go To My Head and so on), tried and tested but never really played with like this before.

Of course, one of the bonuses of this material is that you not only get to hear one of the most influential singers of the last century, but you’re also treated to the sublime talents of greats such as Lester Young, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

As a tracing of her life story, it’s fascinating and quite heartrending to hear the darkness descend as her world slowly crumpled with the harshness of touring the Deep South in the 30s, a time and place where racism reigned, culminating in the hauntingly desolate Strange Fruit and Gloomy Sunday, a far cry from album opener What A Little Moonlight Can Do.

If you’re unfamiliar with her work, The Centennial Collection is a highly recommended ear opener, and for those who are in the know but haven’t listened for a while, it’s a gripping reminder of the talent that lay behind that deeply soulful, smoky voice.

Intoxicating.

​Phil ​Bennett

Musician, actor, singer, music reviewer, Phil’s interests cover a lot of bases and this is reflected in the music he writes about. From blues to soul, ambient to electronic, Phil writes about artists he feels are interesting, true to their craft and worthy of your ears.