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There is much more to explore in our calendar. Find other important events in literary history, authors' birthdays, and a variety of holidays, each with related lessons and resources.

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April 07

Jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday was born in 1915.

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Jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday was born in 1915.

Grades 9 – 12
Calendar Activity Type Historical Figure & Event

 

EVENT DESCRIPTION

 

 

One of jazz's most influential singers, Billie Holiday was born in 1915 in Philadelphia. "Lady Day," as she was later to be known, sang with such intensity and emotion that she made every song her own, whether she wrote it or not. Unfortunately, the blues she sang of were also her reality–she was a terribly unhappy and insecure person and died prematurely in 1959 due to a life of drug and alcohol abuse.

 

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

 

 

Holiday's most popular and influential song is probably her 1939 recording of Strange Fruit, a haunting depiction of the lynchings of African Americans that were occurring throughout the Jim Crow American South. The link allows you to read the lyrics and also listen to part of Holiday's rendition of the song. Because of the subject matter and the vividness of the song's images, this activity should be reserved for high school or mature middle school students.

The song is a perfect text to use to teach tone. Before explaining the context of the song, have students read the lyrics or listen to the song and identify the most powerful or descriptive images.

Next, share some facts about the lynchings in the South during this period, such as, "Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 lynchings of African Americans occurred in the U.S." Ask students to try to determine Holiday's attitude toward this issue, which you can then define as the tone of the song. Have students compare the tone of Holiday's song to that of Langston Hughes' poem on the same topic, Song for a Dark Girl. Then apply the concept of tone to another piece you are currently reading.

 

WEBSITES

 

 
  • Billie Holiday:The Official Site of Lady Day

    This comprehensive site on Billie Holiday includes a biography, photos, quotes, and more.

     

  • Harlem Renaissance Performers

    This page, from the Harlem Renaissance Multimedia Resource at John Carroll University, provides links to a variety of artist showcases. Audio and video files are provided along with biographical and historical information.

     

  • Billie Holiday Was Born: April 7, 1915

    These pages from the Library of Congress' America's Story site offer information and images. See also the Library's additional Billie Holiday information, on its American Memory pages.

     

  • Strange Fruit: Protest Music

    As part of its Independent Lens series, PBS presents the role that protest music has played in American history. The site contains protest music from the days of slavery to the present protests against the war in Iraq.

     

RELATED RESOURCES

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Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937.

Grades   9 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  September 18

Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937.

Students brainstorm the kinds of stories they know and where these stories come from. Students return to these questions as they begin reading Hurston's novel.