Talk about gorgeous. I know I’m not alone in saying that Billie Holiday is one of my absolute ultimate beauty icons. In her early years, she was as beautiful as the gardenias she wore in her hair.
By her forties, she looked like a faded rose. Don’t click that unless you want to see the unvarnished ravages of heroin. Her clavicles are sharper than Nicole Richie’s. Besides Billie’s music, her most lasting legacy is a testimony to the perils of rough living and heartbreak.
This week I was privileged enough to interview a living legend. Little Jimmy Scott is an 81 year old jazz singer who Billie Holiday once described as her favorite singer. His life is absolutely fascinating. The hereditary condition Kallman’s Syndrome deprived him of puberty, and so even today his voice is warm and womanly. He spoke candidly about his memories of Billie. “We lived closely the same life. She was one who struggled with her career. And the unfairness of managers and agents, she went through that also. She was just a good kid that needed love, like most of us do, you dig? If she had had that, I’m quite sure her life wouldn’t have been as brutal. Because love won’t let you kill yourself, you see? If a person loves you, they’re not gonna see you kill yourself,” he said. His words touched me tremendously and shed even more light on her too-brief, tragically wondrous life.
I’ve spent many a day moping around my bedroom listening to Billie. I love her early songs, when she was fresh and sassy, but the ones that really get me are her latter hits. Strange Fruit, God Bless the Child, Autumn in New York, Solitude; where her voice vibrates with honesty and pain. This performance was filmed in 1957, two years before she (and saxophonist Lester Young) died. It’s probably the most recognized jazz performance in television history.
Her skin looks a bit rough from certain angles here, but in the luminescence of vintage black and white footage, she’s stunning to me. I wonder how she would have filmed under today’s less-than-flattering high definition cameras.
For a Billie Holiday-inspired look, I turn to her most iconic images.
Dark, perfectly plucked, arched brows, ruby lips, and a flower in my hair. She knew how to rock a hair accessory like none other. Niecy Nash from my Dad’s favorite show Reno 911 is often seen with a flower pinned in her hair as well. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
I would have gone smaller. Having big curly hair can make it difficult to find the perfect size of hair accessory for me. Something too big can look silly, and something too small lost like a needle in a haystack. The best bet is to go for something like these. The point is to not come across as trying too hard. Billie’s beauty was definitively subtle and most of all, effortless.