43 user 20 critic

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:
Reg Hanley (as James Callahan)
Mama Holiday
Yvonne Fair ...
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

Gross USA:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


In Time Magazine, Richard Corliss named this movie as one of the Top 25 Important Movies on Race. See more »


Mrs. Edson: Ain't it a shame how some of God's children have it so easy, while others have it so hard?
See more »


Featured in A Century of Black Cinema (2003) See more »


Tain't Nobody's Business
Written by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins
Sung by Blinky (as Blinky Williams)
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

The movie was unfortunately not as good as Diana Ross.
27 May 2009 | by See all my reviews

The first question that would run across the mind of anyone who'd watch this movie is: "Can Diana Ross act?" The answer, I'm glad to say, is an unequivocal "Yes." And I think that's what the director wanted to clear up right from the very first scene, with a flash forward to Billie Holiday's drug bust while the credits were still on. Ms. Ross, devoid of make-up and with "crazy hair," put on an extremely convincing performance of heroin (or coke) withdrawal, replete with howling.

Her performance is the highlight of the movie, which unfortunately felt like it ran way too long, and I found myself constantly checking the run time. It wasn't bad as a musical. As I had read previously, Ms. Ross didn't seek to imitate Billie Holiday's style, and instead created a distinct and appropriate - yet similar - jazz style of her own just for the movie (check out "Good Morning Heartache"), and I, being a fan, didn't mind the song interludes.

What dragged the movie was the constant focus on Holiday's drug addiction (to showcase more of Ms. Ross's acting?). It felt like there was scene after scene of her being drug-addled, whining, and screaming, which began to abrade after a while. It's too bad, since with better direction and screenplay, coupled with Ms. Ross's capable acting and singing, this could've been one of the truly great musical biopics.

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