The Issues Of Race And Diversity In Billie Holiday’s Music

Billie Holiday was one of the greatest African American jazz singers. Eleanora Fagan – her birth name – was Eleanora Fagan. Her career began when she began working with various orchestras and groups. African Americans gained freedom from slavery thanks to the 13th. However, discrimination, mistreatment, and racism still plagued them. Holiday, along with many others, used their platforms during the Harlem Renaissance to speak out against inequality in America.

Holiday found it difficult to integrate into the society, particularly as a woman. Jim Crow law was one way that African Americans were treated badly. These laws enforced racial separation in common places like schools and hospitals. As an example, if a black person was on a public bus, they were required to sit behind the whites. If anyone were to ever disobey these regulations, it is likely that they would be arrested as they are still not considered humans. Segregation aided racism in growing and blacks suffered from being bombed, burned and given low-paying positions. Overtime, African Americans were able to find new employment opportunities. The only issue was that working conditions in the workplace were dangerous and dishevelled. African Americans had more opportunities, but only if they were men. Women had more difficulty finding jobs and were seen to be only there to stay home, clean and take care of children. The discrimination African Americans faced was exhausting. Billie Holiday’s music allowed her to talk about the problems of this time and express herself.

Billie Holiday recorded “Strange Fruit” which not only helped her career but also made racism more visible in the society. This is a song that talks about racism and a black man who was lynched. Abel Meeropol wrote the original poem, which exposed racism in America. Holiday’s version caused controversy and made the song very popular. It is a song that explains the need for whites to face blacks without worrying about their race. Holiday’s voice was used to bring raw emotions into her songs.

Holiday’s success was not affected by her drug use, even though she had been a very successful performer. In her later years, Holiday was addicted to heroin. She lost her cabaret-card and couldn’t perform anywhere. A cabernet-card is used to allow one to serve alcohol and perform in locations that do. She was involved with certain narcotics and it was difficult for her to get a job because she did not have a cabernet card. According to an article by Jazztimes, the denial was “a manifestation of the institutional mistrust stirred up” by jazz musicians in particular African-Americans. It was interesting to see that the denial of the cabernet cards seemed more like a race issue, as mainly African Americans had been denied. African Americans are making a big impact in Jazz, particularly. It’s worth asking: Why weren’t they given the opportunity to obtain a credit card? Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” caused quite a bit of controversy, so it could be that denying her the card is a way for the government to hide the issues within society.

Billie Holliday reveals her true feelings in “Lady sings Blues”. She sings of her pain and sadness. Many sociologists believed that her pain could have led to her drug abuse. She doesn’t explain the pain very clearly, but she mentions a bad beginning. Based on her social issues, I believe that the racism in that time made it difficult for African Americans to reach the top. In addition, she had to struggle as a female because at that time women did not have the same rights men enjoyed.

Billie Holiday’s music was used to bring attention to issues such as racism and inequality in the entertainment business. Billie Holiday used her platform, “Strange Fruit”, to highlight racism. The first protest without signs was the one she did with her music and words. The song gives an example of a man being lynched due to the color their skin. This song was not one you would hear on a regular basis. Some people enjoyed the song because it informed the public about the horrible treatment of African Americans based on their skin color. Others, however, were oblivious and refused to acknowledge the problem. In “Lady Sings the Blues”, she emphasizes her pain, which may be related to her drug problems. It was evident that women and men both experienced sadness and pain. She could be referring to African American women as a whole when she uses the word “Lady”.

Billie Holiday, a legendary singer and songwriter will never be forgotten. Billie Holiday will forever be remembered for her song “Strange Fruit”, and the way she used it to bring racism to the forefront. Holiday helped black women develop their jazz skills and inspired them to be confident. She also made women feel like they were equals. Billie Holiday’s music was an unambiguous way for her to communicate and discuss the issues of this time.


  • treyknox

    I am Trey Knox, 26 years old, and I'm a education blogger and teacher. I blog about various subjects in education, and I also teach high school English and writing.