7.1/10
3,042
43 user 20 critic

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

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

Director:

Writers:

(screenplay), (screenplay) (as Suzanne de Passe) | 3 more credits »
Reviews

On Disc

at Amazon

Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »
Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Mahogany (1975)
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  

Tracy, an aspiring designer from the slums of Chicago puts herself through fashion school in the hopes of becoming one of the world's top designers. Her ambition leads her to Rome spurring ... See full summary »

Directors: Berry Gordy, Tony Richardson, and 1 more credit »
Stars: Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Perkins
Sparkle (1976)
Drama | Music
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A girl group experiences turmoil after one of their members turns to drugs and another achieves their desired fame all by herself.

Director: Sam O'Steen
Stars: Philip Michael Thomas, Irene Cara, Lonette McKee
Action | Comedy | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

At Madame Zenobia's illegal nightclub, when Steve Jackson and Wardell Franklin get robbed of their wallets containing a winning lottery ticket, they set out to recover it.

Director: Sidney Poitier
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte
Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

Richard Pryor is playing three different roles here. The first being a poor orange picker named Leroy Jones who gets laid off when by mistake he joins the worker's union during one of their... See full summary »

Director: Michael Schultz
Stars: Richard Pryor, Lonette McKee, Margaret Avery
Claudine (1974)
Comedy | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

In the 1970s Harlem, garbage collector Roop feels intimidated by the idea of dating Claudine who is a single mother of six on welfare.

Director: John Berry
Stars: Diahann Carroll, James Earl Jones, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs
Crime | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

Dave Anderson and Manny Durrell are two high-class sneak thieves who have never been caught. Joshua Burke is a retired detective who has enough evidence on the both of them to put them ... See full summary »

Director: Sidney Poitier
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, James Earl Jones
Comedy | Sport
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Tired of the slave-like treatment of his team's owner, charismatic star Negro League pitcher Bingo Long takes to the road with his band of barnstormers through the small towns of the Midwest in the 1930's.

Director: John Badham
Stars: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor
Biography | Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

After severely burning himself in a drug incident, a comedian has a near death experience in which he reviews his life.

Director: Richard Pryor
Stars: Richard Pryor, Debbie Allen, Art Evans
Cooley High (1975)
Comedy | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

In 1964, a group of high school friends who live on the Near North Side of Chicago enjoy life to the fullest...parties, hanging out, meeting new friends. Then life changes for two of the ... See full summary »

Director: Michael Schultz
Stars: Glynn Turman, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris
Drama | Sport
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A 12-year-old is traumatised by the murder of his friend, a star basketball player.

Director: Joseph Manduke
Stars: Moses Gunn, Rosalind Cash, Bernie Casey
Action | Comedy | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Two Atlanta men raise funds for their charity by rigging boxing matches in New Orleans but their tricks attract the mob's attention.

Director: Sidney Poitier
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Calvin Lockhart
Action | Biography | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

The true life story of Wendell Scott, the first black stock car racing driver to win an upper tier NASCAR race.

Director: Michael Schultz
Stars: Richard Pryor, Beau Bridges, Pam Grier
Edit

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Louis McKay
...
Piano Man
...
Reg Hanley (as James Callahan)
...
Harry
...
Jerry
...
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
Edit

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 See more »


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
Edit

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  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, and Lola Falana were early contenders for the role of Billie Holiday before Diana Ross demanded to Motown head Berry Gordy that she land the role. See more »

Quotes

Jerry: I'll be a bum if you don't pull in fifteen bucks in tips tonight. Fifteen bucks. Now that's my definition of a good singer.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Boondocks: Pause (2010) 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

 
Ross's Truly Once-in-Her-Lifetime Turn as Lady Day Dominates Overly Customized Biopic
30 December 2005 | by (San Francisco, CA, USA) – See all my reviews

The recent death of Richard Pryor prompted me to look at the 2005 DVD package of 1972's "Lady Sings the Blues", which proves the then-young comedian to be a fine actor in the meaty supporting role of Piano Man. Even though he was a master stand-up comic, it's still too bad he never pursued roles of a similar dramatic caliber since he obviously had the talent. Similarly, Diana Ross never fulfilled the promise of her big screen debut in the title role as legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday (1915-59).

Bearing no physical and little vocal resemblance to Holiday, Ross somehow gets under her true-life character's skin much like Joaquin Phoenix does in "Walk the Line" or Jamie Foxx in "Ray". Thirty-three years have elapsed since I first saw this movie, and it is with a certain amount of regret that I report that Ross as an actress has not been anywhere near this good since then. Granted she only has three features under her belt, 1975's "Mahogany" reflected an ego run amok, and she was disturbingly miscast in 1978's "The Wiz". From the opening scene where she is suffering through heroin withdrawal in raw, harrowing detail to her sultrier nightclub performances, she manages to be incendiary by her sheer will. She is even convincing in the early scenes where she is barely a teenager. Her vocal performances really don't evoke Holiday's earthier style, though to Ross's credit, her vivid renditions of standards such as "Mean to Me", "Fine and Mellow" and "Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer)" don't sound like Supremes redux either.

This achievement is all the more impressive since director Sidney J. Furie, a journeyman filmmaker at best, has surrounded Ross with an unwieldy rags-to-riches biopic that should have been edited down from its 144-minute running time. The screenplay - credited to Chris Clark, Suzanne De Passe and Terence McCloy (none of whom wrote a movie script before or since) based in part on Holiday's autobiography - plays fast and loose with the facts and piles on the clichés in true Oscar-baiting fashion. The drug-related scenes are powerful, though they eventually start to feel like condescending plot devices to make the viewer sympathize with Holiday for the persecution she experienced at the hands of abusive men and a bigoted society. Moreover, as Furie discloses on the accompanying audio commentary, the dialogue for several scenes is improvised by the actors, for example, the unnecessarily lengthy Club Manhattan sequence, where the lack of discipline becomes wearing.

Contrary to the fact that Holiday's true life story has been well documented and interest in her legacy increased, the filmmakers altered events and people in order to maintain interest from what they thought were mainstream audiences at the time. Consequently, the character of Louis McKay, Holiday's love interest and eventual husband, played with toothsome charm by Billy Dee Williams, synthesizes a lot of men who came into her life and helped shape her career. The dramatized results leave out key figures of the jazz world like saxophonist Lester Young, trombonist Jimmy Monroe to whom Holiday was married, and record producer John Hammond, as well as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Teddy Wilson--all important colleagues and mentors during the period covered in the film. Instead, we are given Holiday's story as filtered through Ross's own story, an observation confirmed by Ross herself on the accompanying 2005 making-of featurette.

When the music is true to the period, it's quite wonderful, but composer Michel Legrand composed some gauzy, anachronistic interludes that sound like symphonic outtakes from his work on "Brian's Song". The costumes also have a Vegas revue feel, no surprise since designer Bob Mackie's flamboyant, early 1970's style is on full display here. For such an overlong movie, the ending feels quite truncated as newspaper clips are used to telegraph her eventual fate as Ross triumphantly sings her signature song, "God Bless the Child", in Carnegie Hall. Credit Motown mogul and Ross's Svengali, Berry Gordy, for having the fortitude, foresight and tenacity to oversee the project, and the DVD hammers that point in not only the overemphatic, only partially insightful commentary by Furie, Gordy and artists' manager Shelly Berger but also the making-of featurette which features Ross looking strangely youthful and Williams at least looking his age. There are several deleted scenes included in the DVD with no additional commentary from Furie, none refurbished and all understandably excised from the final cut.


27 of 31 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for:
?