Billie Holiday, or Lady Day, as she was lovingly called by her fellow musicians, is an icon. For many jazz singers – including me – she is one of the first singers to discover. When I was 17 or 18, I listened to her songs over and over. She sang with such integrity and intensity.

You may be familiar with her tragic personal life, in 1959 she lost the battle with drugs when she was in her early forties, and the men in her life, well, it is said that her three marriages did not exactly leave her overjoyed. You could say that through her music, you can feel her life. She sang with great depth and understanding of the lyrics. A true storyteller, in my opinion.

Which brings me to the importance of choosing repertoire that fits you like a glove. Because in that way you tell your stories. Time and time again. So, which songs to choose for your repertoire? Do you have a list of the songs that you sing? If not, start making a list! Ready?

Now, let’s take a close look to see what your selection of songs is about. Is there a repeating theme, (my man don’t love me / I fall in love too easily) or are the moods and subjects very diverse? What appeals to you, specifically? I would suggest to always look for songs and stories that resonate with your inner world or stories that you can relate to. This will (hopefully) make your version of the song convincing.

Singer Patti Austin once said: “I always look at singing as acting, I have to become the character in that song.” I love and recognize that approach. To me, singing is like acting. Although there is a fine distinction between an actor singing and a singer acting ?

One more thing…

In my lessons, I always stress the importance of knowing your lyrics by heart. It’s on the top of my list. And why? Because once you are fully aware of the story that you are singing, you can communicate the emotions in your song to your audience. If not… you are like an actor still reading his script on stage. That can be quite awkward, don’t you think? So be the best storyteller you can be by choosing the right repertoire for you and fully knowing your lines!

If you want to dig deeper into the world of Lady Day – here’s my album tip for you:

Lady in Satin (Columbia Records, 1958)

With love, Ilse

Billie Holiday on YouTube

Billie Holiday on Wiki