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Biography Paper: Ray Charles and Billie Holiday
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Biography Paper Outline: Ray Charles and Billie Holiday


1.     Introduction/Thesis

a.       BH: Rough life growing up including drugs.

b.      RC: Poor life, blindness


2.     Early Life

a.       BH: born in Baltimore, ML.

                                                               i.      Raised by mother- lived in extreme poverty.

b.      RC: born in Albany, GA. Raised in FL.

                                                               i.      Completely blind at age 7

                                                             ii.      Mother died when he was 15, father died when he was 17


3.     Education

a.       BH: Dropped out of school in the 5th grade.

                                                               i.      Ran errands with her brother to earn money

                                                             ii.      Moved to Harlem at age 12.

                                                            iii.      Arrested for prostitution.

b.      RC: Saint Augustine School of Blind and Deaf.

                                                               i.      Studied piano, saxophone, trumpet, organ and clarinet.

                                                             ii.      Traveled and played piano for country/western and jazz bands. Mainly in FL and WA.

                                                            iii.      Became addicted to heroin. (arrested in 1965)


4.     Reason for Choosing Given Field

a.       BH: looked for work as a dancer in a club, but auditioned as a singer.

                                                               i.      Sang at the Pod and Jerry’s Log Cabin club.

                                                             ii.      John Hammond, producer, discovered her in 1933.

                                                            iii.      1939: Released single “Strange Fruit”.

                                                           iv.      Dad was a jazz guitarist in Fletcher Henderson’s band.

b.      RC: “I was born with music in my soul.”


5.     Contributions in Field

a.       BH: Dealt with heroin addiction, health problems, bad relationships and racial attacks and still remained an unparalleled talent.

                                                               i.      Couldn’t tour during 1940s because of racial issues.

                                                             ii.      1940’s: mother’s death. Repeatedly arrested for heroin possession.

                                                            iii.      Started becoming an alcoholic. 1950 denied license to perform in clubs that served alcohol.

                                                           iv.      Lose her voice from alcohol consumption.

                                                             v.      Died at age 44 an addict and alcoholic in deep depression.

b.      RC: Signed with Atlantic Records in 1954. Switched to ABC-Paramount in 1959

                                                               i.      First hit was “I Got a Woman”

                                                             ii.      Created a new genre of music- soul

                                                            iii.      Known as the ‘genius’


6.     Historical Importance

a.       BH: Opened blues/jazz scene to women and those of other races.

b.      RC: “Music was one of my parts…Like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me-like food or water. You’d have to remove the music surgically.”


7.     Similarities/Contrasts Between Them

a.       Drug problems: heroin and alcohol

                                                               i.      RC came clean, BH died addict

b.      Poverty

                                                               i.      RC saved some, BH went to addictions

c.       Racial Attacks

d.      Breakthrough artists: created new genres/renovated old ones

e.       Famous Songs and Nick Names

                                                               i.      “genius” “Lady Day”


8.     My Judgment of Both/Conclusion

a.       Both could have done better without drug addictions

b.      Both set new standards for those in their genres

c.       Both did something completely new and difficult

d.      BH was uneducated and not financially stable



Works Cited


Berendt, Joachim (translated by Dan Morgenstern and Barbra Bredigkeit) The      Jazz Book. New York, New York. Lawrence Hill & Co, Inc. 1975.


Billie Holiday. Internet. 28 March 2005. Available. 


Billie Holiday: Biography. Internet. 28 March 2005. Available. 


Case, Brian and Stan Britt. The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz. Salamander Books, 1986.


Giddins, Gary. Rhythm-a-ning. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.     1985.


Hardwick, Elisabeth. Billie Holiday. Internet. 28 March 2005. Available. 


Life of Ray Charles (The). Internet. 28 March 2005. Available.


‘Musical Forms and Genres’ The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 2002 ed.


Primack, Bret. Billie Holiday: Assessing Lady Day’s Art and Impact. Internet. 28   March 2005. Available.


Ray Charles. Internet. 28 March 2005. Available. http://www.history-of-


Ray Charles dead at 73. Internet. 28 March 2005. Available. 


Tirro, Frank. ‘Charles, Ray’ and ‘Holiday, Billie’. The World Book Encyclopedia.     2005 ed.


Yanow, Scott. Biography. Internet. 28 March 2005. Available. 


Biography Paper:

Ray Charles and Billie Holiday



            Ray Charles and Billie Holiday are two of the most influential and awe-inspiring artists of all time. They transformed the title of musician into artist using their voices and musical talents as the paintbrush of American culture. Though they both suffered from tremendous childhood difficulties, they managed to leave a lasting impression on modern singers as well as our country’s rich history. She is known as Lady Day, and he is creator of soul. Together they are two of the greatest jazz musicians to have ever graced the Earth.


Early Life and Education

Ray Charles Robinson was born into a poor family on September 23rd, 1930 in Albany, Georgia.  It was the height of the depression and his family was out of work and out of money. They started traveling around the country looking for jobs when Ray was only three months old. They settled in Florida where Mr. Robinson found a part time job.

Even though Ray is known for being a blind piano player, he was born with almost perfect vision. It wasn’t until he was four years old that he started having problems with his sight. He was diagnosed with glaucoma and after a three year battle became legally blind. Ray was accepted to St. Augustine’s Florida State School for the deaf and blind on a scholarship. At St. Augustine’s he learned how to read Braille, type, mathematics, and the arts. He focused on playing piano but was also taught clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and organ. It was at the school where he started to develop his gift of music. Charles stayed at St. Augustine’s until his mother passed away then set out on the road to fame at age 15. (The Life of Ray Charles Internet)

Lady Day’s story is much different. She was born Eleanora Fagan and adopted the name Billie from the famous movie star, Billie Dove.  Holiday was born in Baltimore in 1915 to a 13 year old mother and 15 year old father. There is no record of their marriage, but if they ever did they did not live together for a significant amount of time. Her father, Clarence Holiday played guitar and banjo in bands for other artists through the 1930’s and was never around Billie much. She grew up as a delinquent, often in trouble with the law. At age ten she was sent to a reformatory and found her way into prostitution when she was twelve.

Her family consisted of her and her mother struggling to make ends meet as they lived during the depression. The moved to New York City in 1928 and worked multiple jobs. When her father came to visit, which was rare, Billie would threaten to call him ‘dad’ in front of his girlfriends unless he gave her some money. (Billie Holiday, Gale Group Internet)


Rising to the Top

            When Charles left St. Augustine’s school to pursue a music career, he didn’t think it would be a giant struggle. He soon found himself on the streets around Florida, sometimes starving, looking for any and all gigs. He decided to get out of town and try it some where else. Ray and a friend looked at a map and chose the one place farthest away from Florida. That place was Seattle, Washington!

            Seattle became the hotspot and turning point in Charles’ career. He started playing in local night clubs and became known as a local celebrity. He moved to Los Angeles shortly after that and recorded his first record with the McSon Trio. In 1948 they became the first black group featured on a sponsored TV Show in the Pacific Northwest. Ray’s whole life is a portrait of the American Dream, rags to riches, and breaking color barriers.

            As his popularity grew he shortened his name to defer him from famous boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Charles toured for a year with the Lowell Fulsom Band to promote his debut album. Later he formed a group with singer Ruth Brown and started playing at the famed Apollo. He dreamed of one day playing at Carnegie Hall. That day soon came as his fan base grew with the release of hits like “Georgia,” “Born to Lose,” and “Hit the Road Jack.” He became an international icon and made his first European concert tour in 1960.

            Along with success also came struggles for Charles. In 1964 he was arrested for drug possession and was checked into a rehab center in California. It was then that he admitted to being a heroin addict for the past 20 years. After rehab he didn’t like talking about the drug addiction because he didn’t want to taint the way his fans saw him.

            Holiday started her career young as well. She began singing in New York night clubs as a teenager. She was remarked as a natural talent and possessed an earthy voice. She gained fans that were professional musicians themselves before she even had a record deal including Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman, and John Hammond. Hammond soon became her producer and started recording songs with her.

Hammond organized her band and who she appeared with, but in 1938 she became a solo artist. Her main gig was playing at the Greenwich Village club Café Society for almost a full year. Along with attention and fame, Holiday was voted best jazz vocalist in Esquire magazine. In the early 1940’s she was arrested multiple times for heroin possession and never fully recovered from her addiction. In August of 1941 she married Jimmy Monroe, only to divorce a few months later. She remarried in 1945 to trumpet player Joe Guy and tried to run a band together but lost large amounts of money. Financial problems, drug addiction, and constant depression tossed Holiday into a downward spindle of life. She was arrested for drug possession again in 1947 and spent a year in a federal rehab center. Her voice also lost its natural sound from alcohol consumption. All these things didn’t keep Billie’s crowd from loving her.