I was introduced to her very young, when I was merely 7 years old! I having a protective mother did not allow me to wander too far from our home in Queens! “Don’t you go outside that gate! “, she would say!
And more often than not, I would have to stay in the house! My refuge was our basement, where my dear Uncle Alvin kept his jazz records! 78s they were (I still have them) and our old RCA console record player!
I would listen to Oscar Brown Jr., “Signifying Monkey”, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughn and others! One day, he reached in the last sleeve of the folder which held the records and said “When you listen this woman, make sure you listen carefully…for every word is sung with meaning!”
I will never forget when I’d placed the record on the carousel and listened! That’s when I fell in love with Billie Holliday! To this day, it has not ever been a month that goes by, that I don’t listen to her singing! There’s always a song to fit the mood I’m in or always one to be humbled by!
So when I heard that on Broadway, Audra McDonald would appear as thee Billie Holliday, I was very interested and suggested to my dear friend that we should somehow make plans to see it soon!
As the tickets were purchased, the next few days the Tony Awards were televised and Audra McDonald won for her role for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill! Best Performing Actress in a Leading a Role!! And as you now know, she made history! Six time Tony Award Winning Actress! But I purposely did not see any of her televised performances.
So upon that great news, made me even more want to see her playing Ms. Billie Holliday! Let me say that I really had no clue on what to expect! For I purposely did not read any reviews! I know the story of Billie Holliday, know her style of singing and even her breathing patterns. I know Billie!
So upon arriving at the Circle In The Square theatre, the set was just as if you were in a nightclub; which was Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The band was there, a 3 piece band (drummer, pianist and bass).
The lights dimmed and there she was …..Audra McDonald; looking like Billie Holliday! Then she stepped on staged and began to sing!
Her voice was EXACTLY like Billie Holliday! I was absolutely floored! She was no longer Audra MCDonald! It was like permission was being granted by the late Billie Holliday to do her life story; a reincarnation so to speak!
There I was being taken back to a time period which I could never have imagined! It felt like I’d stepped into Emerson’s Bar & Grill, no one could see me…but I was there! It’s 1959 in South Philly! The writer, Lanie Robertson adaptation had it dead on!
The favorites were sung , “God Bless the Child”, “Strange Fruit”, ” T ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and classics like “Somebody’s On My Mind” and “Easy Livin”.
Billie Holliday (Audra) spoke of her tremulous life; from childhood to the present time where the drug addiction was sadly taken over her life. For the life she was living, was slowly fading away!
Audra McDonald was outstanding and I couldn’t be happier; for she did an excellent, excellent portrayal of Lady Day! I was not disappointed at all!
What a perfect match, six-time Tony Awarding winner actress and the world’s greatest jazz singer…..in one room! You couldn’t get any better than that! Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill has been extended to September 21, so it’s still time!
On March 27, 1948, Holiday played Carnegie Hall to a sold-out crowd. There were 2,700 tickets sold in advance, a record at the time for the venue. Her popularity was unusual because she didn’t have a current hit record. Her last hit was “Lover Man” in 1945, her last on the record charts. Holiday sang 32 songs at the Carnegie concert by her count, including Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and her 30s hit, “Strange Fruit”. During the show, someone sent Holiday a box of gardenias. “My old trademark,” Holiday said. “I took them out of box and fastened them smack to the side of my head without even looking twice.” There was a hatpin in the gardenias and Holiday, unknowingly, stuck it into the side of her head. “I didn’t feel anything until the blood started rushing down in my eyes and ears,” she said. After the third curtain call, she passed out. April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959)