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Today’s Desert Island Disc: Billie Holiday, The Lady Sings

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday changed how we hear women sing. In recorded music, she essentially redefined vocal pop music by introducing a more personal and immediate singing style. She also changed how we think about phrasing, basing hers on instrumental music rather than the rhythms and cadences of pronunciation. But quite apart from all that, Billie Holiday is just an absolute joy to listen to – one of those timeless artists whose music can be enjoyed in any situation, surroundings and at any time of day. Everybody should have some Billie Holiday in their CD collection. Hers is an instantly recognizable and likable sound, so deeply embedded in the fabric of popular music that pop itself is no longer imaginable without Billie Holiday. All subsequent jazz singers, and most subsequent blues and r&b vocalists, owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude. This four-disc box set is dirt cheap and contains all the seminal early records from the 1930s and 40s – the decades when she was at the peak of her vocal power and invention. Everything has been restored impeccably from the best copies available. (Subsequent recordings sound better because recording technology had improved considerably, but Billie’s voice began to reflect her drug and alcohol consumption, and her performances were no longer as elastic or accomplished.)

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