Billie Holiday

“Coming Forth By Day: The songs of Billie Holiday” by Cassandra Wilson


Coming Forth by Day

Cassandra Wilson releases an otherworldly homage to Billie Holiday, ‘Coming Forth By Day’ (Legacy Recordings) on what would have been Holiday’s 100th birthday. Wilson, who has drawn inspiration from Billie Holiday for her entire life, chose the title as a way to honor the iconic singer: ‘Coming Forth By Day’ is an English translation of the title of the ancient Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” a collection of magic spells intended to assist the journey of those that have passed on through the afterlife.

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Through their achievements at popular music’s highest level, Billie Holiday and Cassandra Wilson are peers across time. Accordingly, Ms. Wilson is free to pay homage to Holiday without fealty, and she does so on her new album, “Coming Forth by Day” (Legacy), by radically reinterpreting, with characteristic confidence and nonconformity, the Holiday canon. Its release this week coincides with the 100th anniversary of Holiday’s birth.

“Coming Forth by Day” isn’t a traditional jazz album, nor does it attempt to evoke the Lady Day music aficionados know through recordings and legend. Ms. Wilson, who is 59, went out of her way to avoid easy comparison to Holiday’s classic versions. During a phone conversation last week, she said she gave “zero thought” to a tribute that sought to capture the Holiday sound, adding that to do so would be, by the jazz musician’s code, an unacceptable affront to her memory. “In our world, that’s an insult.” She said, “I was always focusing on the artist and what she represents: extraordinary things.”

Thus, Ms. Wilson’s understanding of Holiday goes well beyond the standard biography of the singer, who died at age 44. The typical telling portrays Holiday as a tragic figure abused by men and the drugs she used, whose mastery of tone, tempo and lyrical interpretation was either a birthright or an intuitive response to hardship rather than the result of supreme artistry refined through intelligence and dedication. Read More