44 user 22 critic

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

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


Sidney J. Furie


Chris Clark (screenplay), Suzanne De Passe (screenplay) (as Suzanne de Passe) | 3 more credits »

On Disc

at Amazon

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




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


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:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

12 October 1972 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El ocaso de una estrella See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When the film was first suggested in the late 1960s, Abbey Lincoln was the initial casting for the role of Billie Holiday, with Diana Sands as second choice. The project was revived a few years later with Diahann Carroll as a suggested lead, but after discussions between Jay Weston and Director Sidney J. Furie, the role was offered to Diana Ross. 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 »


Referenced in Robot Chicken: PS: Yes, in That Way (2009) See more »


The Man I Love
music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Excellent Performances
15 February 2008 | by Mirage4See all my reviews

I have watched this movie a few times, the first time when it was first released in 1972 and I was barely 4 years old and it has left an indelible mark on me ever since. During this time, most of the films with a predominately Black cast were of the blaxploitation genre. You may think it strange or inappropriate for my parents to take a 4 year old to an "R" rated film but majority of the films with mostly Black casts of this era were rated "R", usually because of vulgarity and violence. My parents eagerly awaited this film and since they could not find a babysitter took me along. They did not expect me to fully understand the film and they probably assumed that I would probably sleep through it (they had me dressed in my pajamas). Even at this young age, I was impressed to see a film on this grand scale that elevated a historical Black icon like Billie Holliday; this was unprecedented and this was not lost on me then or now.

This is an excellent movie and by the rating it has received here (7/10) and the five Academy Awards & three Golden Globe nominations it garnered (Diana Ross won the Golden Globe for Most Promising New Actress); my opinion is not in the minority. While this film may gloss over a lot of Billie's life, the script was based on her autobiography (this may be how Billie chose to remember her past) and the screenplay was also nominated for an Oscar.

Diana Ross did not capture the look and sound of Billie Holliday nor did she attempt to. Diana Ross did not channel Billie Holliday the way that Angela Bassett did with Tina Turner or the way Val Kilmer did with Jim Morrison or how Jamie Foxx did with Ray Charles but she internalized Billie's triumphs, pain, struggles, and personal demons and depicted this exceptionally well and she interpreted Billie's voice by not trying to duplicate the inimitatable but maximized the range of her own voice using Billie's distinctive phrasing and capturing the essence of her spirit while coaxing out a myriad of emotions. The double album soundtrack topped the Billboard charts for two weeks, Diana Ross' only number one Pop album as a solo singer.

This film made me a Billie Holliday fan at age 4. After this film, in addition to Billie, I listened to Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole, Ethel Waters, and Dinah Washington while my peers were just starting to rock to disco. This film and its music still stands the test of time as implied by the recent success of Diana Ross' CD, "Blue" (which was previously unreleased material originally recorded for Motown as a follow-up to this soundtrack) on the jazz and adult contemporary Billboard charts. Billie Holliday is without a doubt an icon but so is Diana Ross. Most people would have to admit that for a debut performance, Diana Ross did an outstanding job, no matter what you may think of her personally. In addition, for it to be the only screenplay that she has ever written, Suzanne DePasse (who was a Motown A&R executive at the time and was the first and remains the only Black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for writing) created a great story even if it presents a slightly less gritty portrayal of the troubled singer's life.

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