885 Greatest Songs By Women: #9, Billie Holiday - God Bless The Child (1942)
I first discovered Billie Holiday back in 1972 by watching the Berry Gordy produced film, Lady Sings The Blues, starring Diana Ross as the great jazz singer along with Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor and Scatman Crothers. Ross turned in a fine acting performance and proved she could sing jazz even though her silkier voice does not resemble Holiday's earthier delivery at all.
At the time, I liked the movie despite its well-known historical inaccuracies and it sent me on a search for Lady Day's records. Among them was the outstanding "God Bless The Child."
Holiday's reputation was mostly built as a superb interpreter of other people's songs, but she did earn an occasional composing credit. One of them is this classic, a co-write with composer Arthur Herzog, Jr.
This masterpiece was recorded in New York on May 9, 1941 for Okeh Records which was a subsidiary of Columbia and released the following year on a ten inch, shellac, 78 rpm record that was the standard at the time. It peaked at #25 on the U. S. pop chart and was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1976.
The band included the legendary Roy Eldridge on trumpet with Ernie Powell and Jimmy Powell on alto saxophones. Lester Boone played tenor. Eddie Heywood was the pianist, Paul Chapman contributed guitar, and Grachan Moncur played bass. The drummer was Herbert Cowens.
In Holiday's autobiography that has the same title as the Gordy-Ross movie and pre-dates it, she said inspiration for the song came from a heated discussion she had with her mother who refused to give her a loan even though the singing star previously helped finance her parent's restaurant. Holiday used the now famous line "God bless the child that's got his own" during the argument and it became the title of the song.
Although I didn't know the history of "God Bless The Child" or who Holiday was when I first heard the song covered on the eponymous, second LP by Blood Sweat & Tears in 1968, I believed immediately that it was a special piece of work. When I finally became familiar with the original four years later my feelings were confirmed.