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Billie Holiday Quotes

Billie Holiday Quotes

Billie Holiday was a legendary American jazz singer and songwriter, born on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She grew up in a troubled family, and at a young age, she began singing in Harlem nightclubs. Her unique style of singing, which combined the soulful expression of the blues with the improvisation of jazz, quickly gained her popularity.

In the 1930s, Billie recorded several hits with bandleader Benny Goodman, including “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch.” In 1935, she signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and released “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” which became her first major hit.

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Despite her success, Billie struggled with drug addiction, which would plague her for most of her life. She also faced racism and discrimination as a Black woman in the music industry. In 1939, she recorded “Strange Fruit,” a powerful song about lynching in the South, which became a controversial hit and a hallmark of her career.

Throughout the 1940s, Billie continued to record and perform, with hits such as “Lover Man” and “God Bless the Child.” She worked with many of the great jazz musicians of the era, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lester Young, who became a close friend and collaborator.

In the 1950s, Billie’s health began to decline, and she was arrested multiple times for drug possession. Despite these struggles, she continued to perform, and in 1958, she released “Lady in Satin,” a critically acclaimed album that showcased her rich and emotive voice.

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Billie Holiday died on July 17, 1959, at the age of 44, from complications of cirrhosis of the liver. She left behind a legacy as one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, with a voice that expressed the pain, joy, and struggles of her life and the African American experience. Her influence can be heard in the music of countless singers who have followed in her footsteps, from Ella Fitzgerald to Amy Winehouse.

The profound words of Billie Holiday, a trailblazer who spoke fearlessly about love, racism, and the struggles of her time. Here are some of her most poignant quotes.

Famous Billie Holiday Quotes

1. “Don’t threaten me with love, baby. Let’s just go walking in the rain.”

2. “You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

3. “If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.”

If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all. - Billie Holiday

4. “I never hurt nobody but myself and that’s nobody’s business but my own.”

5. “You’ve got to have something to eat, and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.”

6. “You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation.”

7. “Everyones got to be different. You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing.”

8. “Love is like a faucet: it turns on and off.”

9. “In this country, don’t forget, a habit is no damn private hell. There’s no solitary confinement outside of jail. A habit is hell for those you love. And in this country it’s the worst kind of hell for those who love you.”

10. “Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what’s more than enough.”

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11. “Sometimes it’s worse to win a fight than to lose.”

12. “Blue moon You saw me standing alone”

13. “I guess I’m not the only one who heard their first good jazz in a whorehouse. But I never tried to make anything of it. If I’d heard Louis and Bessie at a Girl Scout jamboree, I’d have loved it just the same.”

14. “Tony kept my job open. He offered to backstop me with the money I needed. But it was the way he did it I’ll never forget, with love and respect, like a human being holding out his hand to someone who needed it.”

15. “If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

16. “It was during my stint at Café Society that a song was born which became my personal protest—“ Strange Fruit.” The germ of the song was in a poem written by Lewis Allen. I first met him at Café Society. When he showed me that poem, I dug it right off. It seemed to spell out all the things that had killed Pop.”

17. “Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into the black market, told doctors they couldn’t treat them, and then caught them, prosecuted them for not paying their taxes, and then sent them to jail. If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs. The jails are full and the problem is getting worse every day. p153”

18. “I had the white gowns and the white shoes. And every night they’d bring me the white gardenias and the white junk. When I was on, I was on and nobody gave me any trouble. No cops, no Treasury agents, nobody. I got into trouble when I tried to get off.”

19. “Mom just loved people. Part of this might have come from never wanting to be alone, where she could only brood over Pop. Part of it must have come from her fears for me. She knew she wouldn’t be around for very long to take care of me. There was damn little she could do to protect me after she was gone. All she had was me. All I had was her.”

20. “It still depresses me every time I sing it, though. It reminds me of how Pop died. But I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South.”

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21. “When I sing it, it affects me so much I get sick. It takes all the strength out of me.”

When I sing it, it affects me so much I get sick. It takes all the strength out of me. - Billie Holiday

22. “Everyone’s got to be different. You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

23. “It wasn’t long before I was one of the highest-paid slaves around. I was making a thousand a week—but I had about as much freedom as a field hand in Virginia a hundred years before.”

24. “A victrola was a big deal in those days, and there weren’t any parlors around that had one except Alice’s. I spent many a wonderful hour there listening to Pops and Bessie. I remember Pops’ recording of ‘West End Blues’ and how it used to gas me. It was the first time I ever heard anybody sing without using any words.”

25. “They forget what it was like in those days. A whorehouse was about the only place where black and white folks could meet in any natural way. They damn well couldn’t rub elbows in the churches.”

26. “Everyone’s got to be different. You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing.”

27. “Even when they insult you they do it to your face. That’s the only way they can let you know they’re superior to you. They might die and leave you all their money, but somewhere in the fine print in that will they’ve got to let you know you were a good nigger but you’re still a nigger.”

28. “Whenever I had a couple of bucks it was always so little I was ashamed to send it home, so I would give it to Lester Young to invest. I hoped he could shoot enough dice to parlay it into a bill big enough I didn’t have to feel ashamed to send home.”

29. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, ‘Every broad for herself.’ Saying it and acting that way is one thing that’s kept some of us behind the eight ball where we’ve been living for a hundred years.”

30. “I’ll be seeing you In every lovely summer’s day In everything that’s light and gay I’ll always think of you that way I’ll find you in the morning sun And when the night is new I’ll be looking at the moon But I’ll be seeing you”

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31. “The difficult I’ll do right now. The impossible will take a little while..”

32. “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through.”

33. “I’m always making a comeback, but nobody ever tells me where I’ve been.”

34. “If nobody can learn from the past, then there’s no point in raking it up.”

35. “The whole basis of my singing is feeling. Unless I feel something, I can’t sing.”

36. “When you sing, always tell the truth.”

37. “God has blessed you when he lets you believe in somebody.”

38. “I don’t think I ever sing the same way twice. The blues is sort of a mixed-up thing. You just have to feel it. Anything I do sing is part of my life.”

39. “I don’t think I’m singing. I feel like I’m playing a horn…What comes out is what I feel.”

40. “I’m always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I’ve been.”

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41. “Don’t be in such a hurry.”

42. “Dope never helped anybody sing better or play music better or do anything better. All dope can do for you is kill you – and kill you the long, slow, hard way.”

43. “I’ve been your slave Ever since I’ve been your babe But before I be your dog I’ll see you in your grave.”

44. “A kiss that is never tasted, is forever and ever wasted.”

A kiss that is never tasted, is forever and ever wasted. - Billie Holiday

45. “People don’t understand the kind of fight it takes to record what you want to record the way you want to record it.”

46. “You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.”

47. “Them that’s got shall get, Them that’s not shall lose. So the Bible says, And it still is news. Mama may have, Papa may have, But God bless the child that’s got his own.”

48. “You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling.”

49. “The blues to me is like being very sad, very sick, going to church, being very happy … it’s sort of a mixed up thing. You just have to feel it.”

50. “If I don’t have friends, then I ain’t nothing.”

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51. “There’s no damn business like show business – you have to smile to keep from throwing up.”

52. I think I copied my style from Louis Armstrong. Because I used to like the big volume and the big sound that Bessie Smith got when she sang … So I liked the feeling that Louis got and I wanted the big volume that Bessie Smith got. But I found that it didn’t work with me, because I didn’t have a big voice. So anyway between the two of them I sorta got Billie Holiday.

53. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close order drill, or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.”

54. “And when you’re poor, you grow up fast.”

55. “All dope can do for you is kill you… the long hard way. And it can kill the people you love right along with you.”

56. “I never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids. I started working when I was six years old.”

57.“Love is like a faucet; it turns off and on.”

58. “I can only sing songs my way. I don’t know any other way.”

59. “God bless the child that’s got his own.”

60. “Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen and I was three.”

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61. They think they can make fuel from horse manure – now, I don’t know if your car will be able to get 30 miles to the gallon, but it’s sure gonna put a stop to siphoning.”

62. “So I asked him to play “Trav’lin’ All Alone.” That came closer than anything to the way I felt. And some part of it must have come across. The whole joint quieted down. If someone had dropped a pin, it would have sounded like a bomb. When I finished, everybody in the joint was crying in their beer, and I picked thirty-eight bucks up off the floor. . . . When I showed Mom the money for the rent and told her I had a regular job singing for eighteen dollars a week, she could hardly believe it.”

63. “If you think dope is for kicks and for thrills, you’re out of your mind. There are more kicks to be had in a good case of paralytic polio or by living in an iron lung.”

64. “One day a whole damn song fell into place in my head.”

One day a whole damn song fell into place in my head. - Billie Holiday

65. “Love is like a faucet, it turns off and on.’

66. I joined Count Basie’s band to make a little money and to see the world. For two years I didn’t see anything but the inside of a Blue Goose bus, and I never got to send home a quarter.”

67. “I’ve been told that nobody sings the word ‘hunger’ like I do.”

68. “I try to improvise like Les Young, Louis Armstrong or someone else I admire. What comes out is what I feel.”

69. “I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That’s all I know.”

70. “Lust may be in the heart, though it be not seen by others; as guests may be in the house, though they look not out at the windows.”

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71. “The only reason they’re out there is to see me fall into the damn orchestra pit.”

72. “New Orleans is the only city in the world you go in to buy a pair of nylon stockings they want to know your head size.”

73. “I never sing a song the same way twice.”

74. “When Lester plays, he almost seems to be singing; one can almost hear the words.”

75. “Singing songs like ‘The Man I Love’ or ‘Porgy’ is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck.”

76. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years.”

77. “In this country kings or dukes don’t amount to nothing. The greatest man around then was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he was the President; so I started calling Lester the President. It got shortened to Pres.”

78. “To dream my dream could be my mistake, but I’d rather be wrong and sleep right along than wake.”

79.  “The strong gets more while the weak one’s fade. Empty pockets don’t ever make the grade.”

80. “Lord I love my man, tell the world I do I love my man, tell the world I do But when he mistreats me Makes me feel so blue.”

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81. “If I don’t have friends, then I isn’t got nothing.”

82. “I’ve been told that nobody sings the word “hunger” like I do. Or the word “love.””

I've been told that nobody sings the word "hunger" like I do. Or the word "love" - Billie Holiday

83. “You can get in just as much trouble by being dumb and innocent as you can by breaking the law.”

84. “Money, you got lots of friends. They’re crowding around your door. But when you are gone and spending ends. They don’t come no more.”

85. “Singing songs like “The Man I Love” or ‘Porgy” is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck.”

86. “I’m not good-looking and my hair isn’t curled, but my mother, she gave me something that’s going to tear me through this world.”

87. “Them that’s got shall get Them that’s not shall lose So the Bible said and it still is news Mama may have, Papa may have But God bless the child that’s got his own That’s got his own.”

88. “It takes a bad woman to be a good godmother.”

89.  “No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

90. “I always knew I could sing because I always did sing. But I never knew I could make any money out of it until I just had to.”

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91. “I don’t think I missed a single picture Billie Dove ever made. I was crazy for her. I tried to do my hair like her, and eventually, I borrowed her name.”

92. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it isn’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.”

93. “The difficult I will do right now. The impossible will take a little while.”

94.  “They think they can make fuel from horse manure – now, I don’t know if your car will be able to get 30 miles to the gallon, but it’s sure gonna put a stop to siphoning.”

95. “If you find a tune and it’s got something to do with you, you don’t have to evolve anything. You just feel it, and when you sing it other people can feel something too.”

96.  “There’s no damn business like show business – you have to smile to keep from throwing up.”

97. “I joined Count Basie’s band to make a little money and to see the world. For two years I didn’t see anything but the inside of a Blue Goose bus, and I never got to send home a quarter.”

98.  “Dope never helped anybody sing better or play music better or do anything better. All dope can do for you is kill you – and kill you the long, slow, hard way.”

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