Exclusive: Andra Day On The Golden Globe-Winning ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’
‘I think the reason her story is still relevant is because it’s never truly been told’
If you’ve seen Lady Sings the Blues and think you have The United States vs. Billie Holiday figured out, you are in for a surprise. A shock even. For decades, the picture most of us have had of Billie Holiday is one of a hopeless drug addict with awful taste in men, save for the one man, played by Billy Dee Williams, who loved Holiday fiercely but still couldn’t pull her from the clenches of drugs.
Many people also think of her solely as the woman who sang the antilynching song, “Strange Fruit,” back in 1939. And, if we are telling the truth, we thought that was it. Only it wasn’t.
But now it’s 2021, and we should be used to investigating the full truth about Black women, especially the famous ones. After all, don’t they still downplay that Josephine Baker was a spy for the French Resistance during World War II? Or ignore how active Madam C.J. Walker was in the antilynching movement? Not to mention, we still don’t have a proper film for Nina Simone, who certainly used her voice to stand up against injustice during the civil rights movement.
That sad reality of Black women going ignored despite our heroism is not lost on Andra Day, who strips back the layers of the largely unsung Holiday to render her in ways we’ve never seen in the newly released Lee Daniels-directed film.
“We’re not talking about the jazz singer. We are not talking about a troubled person. We are talking about a hero,” says Day, the singer up until now who is perhaps most widely known for singing social justice anthem “Rise Up.” But she has a long history, and this afternoon, she is chatting about her Golden Globe nomination for best actress. “We are talking about the true godmother of the civil rights movement. If it were not for her sacrifice or her singing ‘Strange Fruit,’ we would not know the civil rights movement as we know it today.”
That is no hyperbole or exaggeration on Day’s part. Not when you know the full story of how the federal government, particularly Harry J. Anslinger, relentlessly targeted Holiday for refusing his command…