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Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

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



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


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


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


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

12 October 1972 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El ocaso de una estrella  »

Box Office


$9,600,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Paul Winfield was considered for the role of Louis McKay in the planning stages of this production. See more »


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 »


Featured in It's Black Entertainment (2002) See more »


Tain't Nobody's Business
Written by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins
Sung by Blinky (as Blinky Williams)
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Dreadful from start to finish
15 January 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This is botched in a hundred ways. Factual errors aren't the point - all biopics play with the truth for dramatic reasons, but the story here is inept. The story starts and ends nowhere, investing none of the events with significance. There's no sense of drama, no building of tension, no interesting characters, nothing but Diana Ross bumbling around the sets looking awkward and projecting little personality. How does one re-create a 1920's Harlem whorehouse and manage to make it look as interesting as a Motel 6?

And the singing - there's no doubt Diana Ross has a voice, but she doesn't display the slightest connection with the material. No one could imitate Billie, but one would hope for some kind of interesting interpretation to help pull off the impersonation. But Ross phones in the tunes, with little feeling or style.

Most of the other characters are cardboard, with Richard Pryor doing the weirdest role of his life as a timid, comical piano player.

Absolutely unwatchable for anyone but die-hard Diana Ross fans, and for Billie Holiday lovers and movie buffs, sheer torture.

8 of 14 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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