Andra Day Has a Special Connection to Billie Holliday

Singer Andra Day has earned endless praise and a Golden Globe Award for her outstanding performance in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Getting to play the legendary singer of “Strange Fruit” was a dream come true for Day for many reasons, not the least of which being that Holiday has been her idol since the beginning of her career.

Andra Day posing on the red carpet floor
Andra Day at the 90th Annual Academy Awards in 2018 | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Andra Day stars as Billie Holiday in ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’

Getting to play Billie Holiday in Lee Daniels’ earth-shattering new biopic was one of the biggest challenges of her career yet. Up until this role, Day had only two acting credits: a cameo in the Chadwick Boseman film Marshall and a voice role in Cars 3.

To bring the icon that is Holiday to life, Day had to commit herself to every part of Holiday’s story — even the unsightly parts. Holiday struggled with addiction, arrests, and abusive relationships before her death at the age of 44, and Day does right by her legacy.

Andra Day
Andra Day attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones – Arrivals at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2018 in Beverly Hills, CA | Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Andra Day has always admired Billie Holiday

Day’s appreciation for Holiday began at just 11 years old. “I heard ‘Sugar’ and I heard ‘Strange Fruit.’ It changed my idea of what a great singer was,” she told The New York Times.

Her admiration of Holiday’s voice was a driving force in her becoming a singer in the first place. She told Paste magazine in 2016 “I’m attracted to big unique voices so of course I love the Arethas and Patti LaBelles, but also one of my major influences is Billie Holiday because she just has such a unique voice. It was very emotional and very real and very raw.” 

Day reflected on playing her idol in a 2021 interview with PBS NewsHour. “Her songs were rooted in truth, in her experience and how she perceives things and how she felt and what was right at the time. And so it was beautiful,” she said. “I think it’s what drew people to her, and what drew them to her music, is that she sang and spoke about all the things that women — or people — thought about but didn’t necessarily say.”

Andra Day
Andra Day attends the 2018 LACMA Art + Film Gala at LACMA on November 03, 2018 in Los Angeles, California | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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Andra Day got her stage name from Billie Holiday

Andra Day also shares something in common with Billie Holiday: both of them are known by their stage names. Day was born Cassandra Monique Batie; Holiday, Eleanora Fagan.

Like many performers, Holiday was known by other nicknames. Her most famous one was Lady Day.

When Andra Day began her career as a singer, she wanted to pay homage to the woman who changed the way she thought about music forever.