How Many Times Was Billie Holiday Arrested?

Billie Holiday is perhaps one of the greatest jazz musicians to have ever lived. Holiday gave jazz fanatics songs to last a lifetime. Her melodious voice and trademark tilting backward of the head will always be remembered fondly. Although Holiday thrived at her craft, the “Strange Fruit” singer battled her own issues. Unfortunately, some of those issues led to her multiple arrests and untimely death in 1959.

Billie wasn’t the singer’s real name

Holiday was born in April 1915 as Eleanor Fagan in Philadelphia. Varying accounts document the singer’s birthplace as Baltimore, Maryland. Her birth certificate allegedly reads Elinore Harris. Holiday, however, grew up in Baltimore. She was the daughter of Sadie who reportedly gave birth to her while she was still a teenager. While Sadie went to work, Holiday would be left with other people. She became truant and started skipping school.

Sadie, unfortunately, lost custody of Holiday due to her child’s truancy. Holiday got sent to a facility for troubled children. After an alleged sexual harassment case, Sadie got custody of her daughter later that year.

Holiday undoubtedly had a troubled childhood. Her solace, however, lay in music, and the likes of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith helped the teenage Holiday get through the rough patches. In the 1930s, Holiday landed singing gigs in local clubs. She then adopted the stage name Billie after Billie Dove.

Holiday was discovered at 18

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While performing at a local Harlem jazz club, producer Jon Hammond saw the talent in Holiday. He got her working with clarinetist Benny Goodman. She sang vocals together with Goodman, which led to her first commercial release, “Your Mother’s Son In Law.”

Holiday then met Lester Young, a member of Count Basie’s orchestra. In 1937, she toured with the orchestra, and in the following years, she worked with Artie Shaw’s orchestra. She ended up leaving the orchestra after the promoters endlessly frustrated her due to her race and vocal style.

Holiday branched out on her own and did exceptionally well. She performed at New York’s Café Society and was able to develop her stage persona. She became known for tilting her head backward while singing and wearing gardenias in her hair. Holiday worked on her music, releasing hits such as “God Bless the Child,” “My Man” and “Strange Fruit.”

Holiday’s personal struggles often led to arrests

Holiday’s first arrest came when she was still a teenager. Although it was unofficial, she and her mother had to appear in court, leading to her enrollment in the House of Good Shepherd facility. As an adult, Holiday was known to drink occasionally. She, however, picked up smoking opium after getting married to James Monroe in 1941. The marriage was short-lived but only opened doors for Holiday’s substance abuse.

She then got involved with trumpeter Joe Guy, and under his influence, she began using heroin. After Sadie died in 1945, Holiday tried to drown her sorrow with more alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately, the continued drug use took a toll on her career after she got arrested in 1947.

Holiday was charged with narcotics possession and was sentenced to one year in jail. She then met club owner John Levy. By the end of the 1940s, she had gotten arrested again for narcotics but got acquitted, according to Biography.

After her New York City performance in May 1959, Holiday was admitted for liver and heart problems. Her heroin addiction was so severe that she got arrested again for possession while in the hospital. She died in July 1959 from drug and alcohol-related complications.