Billie Holiday: a genius that got lucky

“One day, we were so hungry we could barely breathe,” she told Downbeat magazine in 1939. “I started out the door. It was cold as all hell and I walked from 145th to 133rd down Seventh Avenue, going in every joint trying to find work. Finally, I got so desperate I stopped in the Log Cabin Club, run by Jerry Preston. I told him I wanted a drink. I didn’t have a dime. But I ordered gin (it was my first drink — I didn’t know gin from wine) and gulped it down. I asked Preston for a job … told him I was a dancer. He said to dance. I tried it. He said I stunk. I told him I could sing. He said sing. Over in the corner was an old guy playing a piano. He struck “Travelin’” and I sang. The customers stopped drinking. They turned around and watched. The pianist, Dick Wilson, swung into “Body and Soul.” Jeez, you should have seen those people — all of them started crying. Preston came over, shook his head and said, ‘Kid, you win.’ That’s how I got my start.”

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