7.1/10
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42 user 21 critic

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

The story of the troubled life and career of the legendary Jazz singer, Billie Holiday.

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Writers:

(screenplay), (screenplay) (as Suzanne de Passe) | 3 more credits »
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Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Louis McKay
...
Piano Man
...
Reg Hanley (as James Callahan)
Paul Hampton ...
Harry
...
Jerry
Virginia Capers ...
Mama Holiday
Yvonne Fair ...
Yvonne
...
The Madame
Tracee Lyles ...
The Prostitute
...
The Agent
Milton Selzer ...
The Doctor
...
The Detective #1
Clay Tanner ...
The Detective #2
Jester Hairston ...
The Butler
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Storyline

Born Elinore Harris, Billie Holiday had a difficult teen and young adulthood period, which included working in brothels, both as a cleaning woman and a prostitute, and being raped. Through this difficulty, she dreamed of becoming a jazz singer. She got her initial singing break when she applied at a Harlem club that was looking for a dancer, but where she got hired as a singer. There, she met and fell in love with the suave Louis McKay. After this initial break, Billie wanted her singing career to move to the mainstream clubs in downtown Manhattan. She took a risk when she agreed to be the lead singer for the Reg Hanley Band, a primarily white group, who convinced her that she would have to make her mark in regional tours before her Manhattan dream could happen. As Billie tried to advance her career, pressures of life, including being a black woman, led to her not so secret substance abuse (especially of heroin), not so secret because of her increasingly erratic behavior, both on ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Diana Ross is Billie Holiday. Diana Ross sings Billie Holiday and a superstar is born. See more »


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

12 October 1972 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El ocaso de una estrella  »

Box Office

Gross:

$9,600,000 (USA)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Berry Gordy originally considered Four Tops' lead singer Levi Stubbs for the role of Louis McKay, but the group was touring Europe at the time. See more »

Quotes

Louis McKay: Pardon me, lady. I must have got you mixed up with someone who used to reside as Missus, um... what's her name?
Billie Holiday: If that's what you thought, nigger, why'd you give me them damn flowers? Why didn't you just give me some money?
Louis McKay: I did.
See more »

Connections

References There Goes My Girl (1937) See more »

Soundtracks

Happy
Written by Michel Legrand and Smokey Robinson
Sung by Michael Jackson
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Seriously flawed
10 February 2007 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

Before watching this I knew that it wouldn't be factually correct. I knew that Diana Ross would sing in her own style without trying to imitate the real Billie Holiday. And I knew that this film was hated & protested by Billie's real life associates and family. I watched it anyway expecting to enjoy it the same way I enjoyed Amadeus even though it stepped all over the real Mozart. I mean, c'mon people, if we want history we should go to a library, not a movie theatre.

But with all that said I was still horribly put off by the lack of continuity with the spirit of Billie's life. For one thing, Diana's portrayal made Billie look like a blabbering halfwit. Even in the scenes where she's supposed to be stone cold sober she acts like a flake. If you've ever seen footage of the real Billie, you know that the real Lady was a tough, sharp, smart human being. You don't survive on the streets of New York by being an idiot the way she's shown to be in the film.

Next, the performances were shown totally out of context. For example, the song "My Man" is a chilling song about spousal abuse, but in the movie they gloss it up to be a feel-good homage to her guardian angel of a husband Louis McKay. In real life, Louis was as abusive as all of her husbands (hence the song "My Man"). This is just one example of the many incorrect interpretations this movie presents of Billie's music and her life.

OK, but like I said in my 1st paragraph, I can allow the director some poetic license if the movie is worthwhile. Unfortunately this movie didn't deliver. Instead of focusing on the true hardships and trials that plagued Ms. Holiday, we get a whole bunch of clichés about drug use, trying to make it in the business, and how you're supposed to be good to your friends. I'm not sure if this was supposed to be about Billie Holiday or if it was just an ABC afterschool special with clever packaging.

The acting was good (if you choose to accept the idea of Billie Holiday being a weak minded flake), and there were several dramatic moments that were well staged. But here's my biggest gripe: the musical score KILLED this movie! It's supposed to be a 1940s jazz biopic, so why are we getting 70s "star search" orchestrations? You know, like the cheezy swelling violins and pseudo-disco drums when Ed McMahon reads the winner of the competition. Talk about an anachronism, to say nothing of the way it cheapens some otherwise powerful moments.

Lastly, I have to say that fans of Billie's music will be pretty annoyed at Diana Ross's versions. They are two totally different singers. Billie sang in a lower register (except when hitting those high notes which she always did clean & clear WITHOUT vibrato) whereas Diana prefers theatrics in the upper register and doesn't go very low at all. This is really a movie for Diana Ross fans or for casual jazz listeners who have never heard of Billie Holiday. Like another reviewer suggested, if you're truly interested in Billie, you should buy some of her records or try to find some old films of her performances. Her music is the best biography you'll ever get.


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