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Friday, May 27, 2022

Cream Of The Crate #39 : Billy Holiday – The Original Recordings




cream of the crate #39 : billy holiday – the original recordings
Album Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]


 This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

cream of the crate #34 : pink floyd – the vinyl boxed set

"This is Billie Holiday as she will always be remembered" - (Chris Albertson {Bessie Smith's Biographer} - Liner notes) __ "With me, it’s got nothing to do with working or arranging or rehearsing. Give me a song I can feel and it’s never work." - (Billy Holiday)

This is number thirty nine in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection.

The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.

The album is “The Original Recordings” by Billie Holiday.

This album was released by CBS in 1972 (SBP23400) and is a mono production, as it should be, as all of Billies work were recorded in mono and should stay that way.

cream of the crate #39 : billy holiday – the original recordings
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

The story of Billie Holiday is a long and involved story that covers the extremes of creative success to the depths of despair.

Given that Billie did most of her recording in the 1930’s and 1940’s, it is possible that while many readers have heard her name, they know little about her.

Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) grew up in jazz talent-rich Baltimore in the 1920s. As a young teenager, she served the beginning part of her so-called “apprenticeship” by singing along with records by Bessie Smith or Louis Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs.

cream of the crate #39 : billy holiday – the original recordings
A close up pic of Billie taken from the rear of the album cover – [CLICK to enlarge]
 When her mother, Sadie Fagan, moved to New York in search of a better job, Billie eventually went with her. She made her true singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs and borrowed her professional name – Billie Holiday – from screen star Billie Dove


Although she never underwent any technical training and never even so much as learned how to read music, Billie quickly became an active participant in what was then one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country. She would move from one club to another, working for tips.

She would sometimes sing with the accompaniment of a house piano player while other times she would work as part of a group of performers.

At the age of 18 and after gaining more experience than most adult musicians can claim. Billie was spotted by John Hammond and cut her first record as part of a studio group led by Benny Goodman, who was then just on the verge of public prominence.

In 1935 Billie’s career got a big push when she recorded four sides that went on to become hits, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You.”

This landed her a recording contract of her own, and then, until 1942, she recorded a number of master tracks that would ultimately become an important building block of early American jazz music.

A young Billie Holiday circa 1935

So much of Billie’s story misrepresents the truth.

In fact the liner notes on this album point out that almost one-third of the best selling book on her life, “The Lady Sings the Blues” – a book that was supposed to document her tormented life, was removed by the Publisher.

This was probably done in an attempt to “sanitise” her story, as it was so turbulent and reflected a path of self-destruction. In fact even the name of the book is misnomer in itself as she rarely sang what is considered to be ‘Blues’.

cream of the crate #39 : billy holiday – the original recordings
Billie Holiday and Mister, New York City, 1949. Holiday loved cooking and she loved her dog Mister who followed her everywhere, even watching her perform from off-stage – [CLICK to enlarge]


Among the demons she dealt with was, rape, a stint in prison, substance abuse, brutal love relationships, racial bigotry, de-humanizing government harassment, exploitation by promoters and selfish audiences.

In fact Billies quoted as saying about her audiences and why many came to see her was in the hope of seeing her, “fall into the damn orchestra pit.”

Several authors have pointed out, that the only thing that is a real reflection of Billie Holiday, is her recordings. No one has ever dared to tamper with them, and what we hear is exactly how she was recorded.

Billie recording at CBS


Nat Hentoff, critic at esteemed Downbeat Magazine called her voice, “steel-edged and yet soft inside; a voice that was almost unbearably wise in disillusion and yet still childlike….”

So let’s look at the tracks on this wonderful album!

One of the strengths of it is the fact that it covers thirty three of the thirty five years that she recorded.

Billie recorded between 1933 and 1958 and the disparity between her recordings is far greater than that caused by the time element, as they are often a reflection of dealing with those demons already spoken of.

The earliest recording on this album is the hit previously mentioned, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do“, recorded in 1935. 

The most recent recording was her 1958 recording of “You’ve Changed“.

In between we are treated to a further 9 tracks.

cream of the crate #39 : billy holiday – the original recordings
Rear cover -= [CLICK to enlarge]



God Bless The Child
recorded May 9, 1941
All Of Me
recorded March 21, 1941
You’ve Changed
recorded February 20, 1958
What A Little Moonlight Can Do
recorded July 2, 1945
Mean To Me
recorded May 11, 1937
Them There Eyes
recorded July 5, 1939


Miss Brown To You
recorded July 2, 1935
My Man
recorded November 1, 1937
Gloomy Sunday
recorded August 7, 1941
I Cried For You
recorded June 30, 1936
The Man I Love
recorded December 13, 1939


Let’s consider the earliest recording on this album – “What a Little Moonlight Can Do“.

The track really ‘rocks’, not because it IS Rock, in fact it’s pure jazz, but because the energy and tempo demands it.

And what a line-up!

The Teddy Wilson Orchestra, with Teddy on Piano. Incidentally if you are unaware, Teddy was amongst the biggest names in jazz in that era and along with Benny Goodman on Clarinet, Cozy Cole on Drums, they provide an uptempo beat that Billie slips into really comfortably.

What a Little Moonlight Can Do

I dip into the forties for the next track. ” All of Me” which is another full-on jazz composition, in fact written in 1931 it is considered as a jazz standard.

Unlike the last track, this is almost a ‘love song’. The song has been covered by everybody, who is anybody, such as Della Reese, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald – the list is mighty impressive

Yet Billy shines through with her version.

Here we can savour emotion without cheap sentimentality, simplicity without simple-mindedness, a force of expression that is achieved through restraint and understatement.

100/100 for this track alone!

All Of Me

The final track to talk about is that latest recording, which was her 1958 track, “You’ve Changed“.

By now her voice has started to suffer from a combination of drugs, drink and abuse, yet she still manages to sound better than many of her contemporaries at this time.

The track is a classic Big Band ‘night club’ style, lay back, gentle and reflective – one wonders if she could have been singing about herself. The backing instrumentation was full on with the Ray Ellis Orchestra supplemented with xylophone, guitar, additional brass, harp and strings.

You’ve Changed

To put it bluntly, there is not a ‘bad’ track on this album.

Billie Holiday was incapable of recording a bad track. Her live performances were at times a real ‘roll the dice’ job, and therefore her performances varied from the sublime to, the ridiculous.

Yet when she was in the studio, she became “The First Lady of Cool Jazz” – She was Billie Holiday.


Billie sang her swan song at a New York benefit in June of 1959.

A mere month later she was arrested on her death bed in a hospital, where she then spent her last days signing copies of her book and records for members of the New York Police Department.

They had been stationed there to stop her from ‘escaping’!

She finally made her escape, her final escape on July 17th 1959.

Ironically it is a sign of how she has been so forgotten, that copies of the album – “The Original Recordings“, can be bought on Ebay for as little as $8.00.


We are fortunate, that while there are not a lot of Youtube live performances of Billie Holiday, for obvious reasons, I did locate to live performances of tracks on this album, plus a live performance in 1958, which was toward the end of her life.


Billie Holiday’s screen debut (at 4min,40sec) in Duke Ellington’s Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life, 1935
(Also check out the dancing at the 3 minute mark)


My Man (1937)


God Bless the Child


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

Click to open:

#1.   Howling Wolf: Real Folk Blues

#2.   Otis Redding: Otis Blue

#3.   Dr John: Gris Gris

#4.   Spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

#5.   Son House – The Real Delta Blues

#6.   Various Artists – Cruisin’ 1961

#7.   Various Artists – Live At The Station Hotel

#8.   Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Deja Vu

#9.   Moon Mullican – Seven Nights To Rock

#10. Billy Thorpe – Time Traveller

#11. Bobby & Laurie – Hitch Hiker

#12. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland

#13. The Beatles – The Beatles Collection [A Box Set]

#14. Johnny O’Keefe – 20th Anniversary Album

#15. Jimmy Cliff – The Harder they Come (Music form the soundtrack to the film)

#16. Frank Zappa – Roxy and Elsewhere

#17. Junior Walker & The All Stars – Roadrunner

#18. Various Artists – Jump Children [Voit Voit]

#19. Various Artists – King – Federal Rockabillys

#20. Max Merritt & The Meteors – Max Merritt & The Meteors

#21. Planet Gong – Camembert Electronique

#22. Earth, Wind & Fire – Head To The Sky

#23. Ellen MclLwaine – We The People

#24. The Easybeats – Absolute Anthology [1965 – 1969]

#25. Rainbow Generator – Dance Of The Spheres

#26. Martha & The Vandellas – Greatest Hits

#27. Buddy Holly – The Rock & Roll Collection

#28. The Who – Quadrophenia

#29. Elvis – The Legend (1954 – 1961): A Boxed Set

#30. Col Joye – Lets Rock With

#31. The Yardbirds – For Your Love

#32. Eddie Cochran – The Singles Album

#33. Krozier & The Generator – Tranceformer

#34. Pink Floyd – The Vinyl Boxed Set

#35. Jackie Wilson – Jackie Sings the Blues

#36. Cream – Wheels of Fire [In the Studio]

#37. The Masters Apprentices – Masterpiece

#38. Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

Rob Greaves
I have been with the Toorak Times since April 2012. I work as Senior Editor of the Toorak Times, but I also think of myself as senior contributor. I've been in the Australian music scene as a musician since 1964, and have worked in radio and TV and newspapers (when they were paper ), serious experience in audio editing, and a lot of video editing experience. Currently I'm working as a radio program producer for a national interview program as well as my work with the Toorak Times