BNHA Billie Holiday Plaza
Gaining Freedom for All: African American Heritage and the Struggle for Equality
Shaping a Monumental City: The City’s Growth in the 20th Century
Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail
Points of Interest
1386 Pennsylvania Ave
Baltimore, Maryland 21217
Billie Holiday revolutionized jazz singing with her relaxed approach, rhythmic attack, laconic phrasing, and the use of blues devices. Born in Philadelphia in 1915 as Eleanora Fagan, her mother, Sadie Harris, returned to Baltimore with her infant daughter soon after her birth. They lived in Baltimore’s Fell’s Point, Old Town, and Old West Baltimore.
Holiday’s singing career began in the Harlem nightclubs in 1933. She is believed to be the first black woman to sing with a white band. From 1933 through 1958, Holiday recorded and performed with Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Lester “Prez” Young. It is rumored that saxophonist Young gave her the nickname “Lady Day.” Returning to Baltimore a star, she headlined at the Royal Theatre and Club Tijuana.
A statue erected in Holiday’s honor stands at the corner of Lafayette and Pennsylvania avenues. The eight-foot, six-inch tall bronze statue stands on a granite base with bronze panels with references to the Jim Crow era and the horrors of lynching. Holiday is often remembered for her haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit,” a song written denouncing lynching in the American south.