#46: Lady in Satin

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It’s amazing how music has the power to inspire, to transcend physical and temporal boundaries, to conjure memories of times long ago, to bare souls, and entice listeners to bare their own. Billie Holliday’s Lady In Satin is a one-of-a-kind record and perhaps her consummate work.

When Ray Ellis, the orchestra director, was asked how he felt about Lady In Satin shortly after the recording, he responded that he not only hated the experience, but also the recording itself. This was Billie Holliday, one of the most important jazz vocalists of all time, and he thought she had lost it completely. Lady Day was known for her unique approach to vocals; she never learned to read music, she’d change tempo mid-song, etc. She could always rely on her beautiful voice and direct style to silence the critics. That voice had long since abandoned her after hard years of drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, Lady In Satin would be her last record before she died one year later, at the age of 39.

At times, she sounds like she’s struggling to sing the material, with her rendition of I Get Along Without You Very Well. seeming to stick in her throat. Her accusatory, titular cry in You’ve Changed is a powerful indictment of a fallen angel, delivered without a hint of self-incrimination.

This record is a hell of an experience. With all its flaws, there’s an incredible beauty in the recording, of something altogether indescribable—by me personally, at any rate.