Billie Holiday’s centenary, on 7 April, was the impetus for Universal Japan’s jazz team to conceive an album with one of the most exciting new talents within the jazz genre – José James. José has curated a Best of Billie Holiday that covers the singer’s career with Verve Records. God Bless the Child is the name of the album and it is 14 tracks that is the perfect introduction to Billie’s unique talent.
These are José’s liner notes for the album.
My first clear musical memory is of Billie Holiday. I must have been about 4 years old, the perfect size to sit on the floor next to my mother’s record shelf, pull out LP’s one by one and study the covers. Through all of the funk, folk, and jazz albums one cover in particular struck me: a beautiful woman emerging from darkness, a flower in her hair. A face full of wisdom and kindness. At some point my mom dropped the needle and Billie’s voice floated through our house – grand, warm, intimate, and wholly unique. I remember I loved “God Bless the Child” the most because I thought she was singing about me.
I rediscovered Billie during a difficult period of my teenage years. As much as I loved Nirvana, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, her music spoke to me on a much deeper level. Her work was mastery – of pain, of trauma, of faith in music and the power of transformation. I had found my teacher. Billie Holiday made me want to be a jazz singer and set me on the path that I’m walking today.
She spoke to my struggle for individuality and clarity of self in a way that no one else did at the time. Her pain was deeper, more lived in. Her knowledge immense. And she seemed to offer the rarest gift: the transformation of tragedy into art. I fell in love with her voice and became her student, living in her world and learning how to sing.
What I learned during that time not only taught me how to sing jazz, it taught me to better relate to the world. Music allows us to understand someone else’s story – their history, love, and pain. Nobody does that better than Billie. She will be remembered and loved eternally for her ability to share her story, purely and fully, with all of us.
Thank you Lady Day.
– José James