Billie Holiday

Singer; Liver and heart disease
Born: April 7, 1915
Died:  July 17, 1959

(An excerpt from Shades Of Blue: The Decline and Fall of Lady Day)

BILLIE.
Three things you need out there to make the people happy…
One:
Your hair done up real nice with a gardenia.
Two:
A little juice in your arm.
And
Three:
A tune you can hum.
(Beat.)
Know what I thought first time out there?
First time singing on a stage?
All these hands pop into the sky, waving ’round five dollar bills.
Five dollar bills saying “come”.
Know what I thought?
Thought about squeaky mattresses and sweaty eyebrows and nasty breath and bloodhound kisses.
Thought about a-hundred-and-fifty-one west hundred-and-fortieth street
and Florence Williams
and all the other girls
and those five dollar bills I got for all them bloodhound kisses.
(Beat.)
But now…
(Beat.)
Now they just like my singin’.
(Beat.)
I had a lotta time to think,
layin’ there cuffed to that bed.
Lotta time to think about what I’d say when I got there and Mister was counting up my sins.
How I’d make it up to Him.
Got a lotta ugly in here, I’d say.
But then I guess He’d already know.
Bet He’s got a book that write itself whenever I shoot up or tell a lie or hate my momma or have a drink or cuss.
(Beat.)
Bet that’s a real long book.
(Beat.)
Been waitin’ a while here.
Been waitin’ with momma a while.
Feels like years,
but maybe it’s only minutes.
She leaves,
I wait.
She keeps leavin’,
I keep waitin’.
What for, I don’t know.
(Beat.)
If it’s a light, I hope it’s warm.
Maybe a pink one, even.
If it’s a bed, I hope it’s soft.
And if it’s a bar, I hope it’s crowded.
You always need people.
The sounds of ’em all:
somebody laughin’, clinking silverware, ice cubes meltin’, somebody flirtin’, waiters waitin’, empty glasses singin’, couples couplin’, people peoplin’…
And then…
just before they announce me…
There’s silence.
A real eager silence.
(Beat. She relishes this.)
And then…
It begins.
(Applause. A gardenia falls from the sky. She catches it.)

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