7.2/10
3,297
44 user 22 critic

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

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

Director:

Sidney J. Furie

Writers:

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

Photos

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Diana Ross ... Billie Holiday
Billy Dee Williams ... Louis McKay
Richard Pryor ... Piano Man
James T. Callahan ... Reg Hanley (as James Callahan)
Paul Hampton ... Harry
Sid Melton ... Jerry
Virginia Capers ... Mama Holiday
Yvonne Fair Yvonne Fair ... Yvonne
Isabel Sanford ... The Madame
Tracee Lyles Tracee Lyles ... The Prostitute
Ned Glass ... The Agent
Milton Selzer ... The Doctor
Norman Bartold ... The Detective #1
Clay Tanner 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 See more »


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

12 October 1972 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El ocaso de una estrella See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$9,600,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

According to Diana Ross, Richard Pryor personally instructed her on how to behave during the scenes of drug use. See more »

Quotes

Louis McKay: [offering Billie a $20 bill] You want my arm to fall off.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Jeopardy!: Episode #26.74 (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

Them There Eyes
(uncredited)
music and lyrics by William Tracey, Doris Tauber and Maceo Pinkard
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Hopelessly Unhistoric
16 March 2002 | by gar-18See all my reviews

Diana Ross put in a very fine performance playing a very difficult role. Sadly, that role was not Billie Holiday and this is my big problem with this film. Any film with a musician as its subject should have loads of that musician's art. Diana Ross does sing some songs, but the MUSIC is not the focus of the film. The unhistoric life of Lady Day is: her experiences as a prostitute, her first gig, getting discovered, touring with a white band, Strange Fruit, etc. They are all thrown together into a hapless hodge-podge lacking continuity or even a semblance of a timeline. An even greater sin is that Lady Day did not develop in a vacuum as this film would have you believe. She was a vital part of the larger jazz scene of the 30s and 40s, a scene she shared on an equal footing with such giants as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lester Young, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, and most importantly John Hammond, the famous producer and talent scout who discovered Lady Day in a small Harlem club. None of these people appear in the film in any way, shape, or fashion. That's not just ridiculous, it's criminal. I don't know if there was a permissions problem in portraying them on film (some of them were still alive when the film was made), but their absence is sorely felt.

Amadeus is also criticized as unhistoric, which it is, but it made the best of Mozart's life by putting his music at center stage. (It also helps that the events it portrayed were in chronological order.) The same could have maybe rescued LADY SINGS THE BLUES, but the opportunity was missed. Other than Diana Ross's harrowing portrayal of a heroin addicted singer (who could have been anyone but Billie Holiday), there is nothing to recommend this movie. Go watch Ken Burns' JAZZ series instead.


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