Lady in Satin was released in 1958 on Columbia Records, catalogue CL 1157 in mono and CS 8048 in stereo. It is the penultimate album completed by the singer and released in her lifetime (her final album, Billie Holiday, being recorded in March 1959 and released just after her death).
The song material for Lady in Satin derived from the usual sources for Holiday in her three decade career, that of the Great American Songbook of classic pop. Unlike the bulk of Holiday’s recordings, rather than in the setting of a jazz combo Holiday returns to the backdrop of full orchestral arrangements as done during her Decca years, this time in the contemporary vein of Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald on her Songbooks series. The album consists of songs Holiday had never recorded before.
Reaction to the album has been mixed. Holiday’s voice had lost much of its upper range in her 40s, although she still retained her rhythmic phrasing. The Penguin Guide to Jazz gave the album a three-star rating of a possible four stars, but expressed a basic reservation about the album, describing it as “a voyeuristic look at a beaten woman.”
However, trumpeter Buck Clayton preferred the work of the later Holiday to that of the younger woman that he had often worked with in the 1930s. Arranger Ray Ellis said of the album in 1997:
I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You”. There were tears in her eyes…After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.
Lady in Satin was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.