BILLIE HOLIDAY: INSPIRING A NEW GENERATION

Nearly 60 years after Billie Holiday’s final performance, her history and legacy of social justice is inspiring a new generation.

Aired May 31, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

WE'RE HERE AT THE BILLIE HOLIDAY THEATER AT BED-STUY.

EYE ON A JOINEDLY DR. ETWAROO.

TELL ME WHAT THIS MEANS HAT BED-STUY.

THE BILLIE HOLIDAY THEATER IS THE DESTINE DISTINCTION HAS HAS THE RIVALING OF BEING THEATER HOME TO THE LARGEST BLACK COMMUNITY IN THE NATION.

WE TAKE GREAT PRIDE AND RESPONSIBILITY IN THAT.

AND SO IT BECOMES A DESTINATION TO CONVENE AUDIENCES NOT ONLY LOCALLY BUT THROUGHOUT NEW YORK CITY AND SOMETIMES WE HAVE AUDIENCES COMING FROM AS FAR AS GEORGIA TO JOIN US.

AND WE'VE HAD AUDIENCES FLY IN FROM TORONTO AND HOLLAND FOR SPECIAL PROJECTS.

WE THINK OF OURSELVES AS THIS INCREDIBLE LOCAL BUT ALSO GLOBAL VILLAGE THAT ALLOWS THE STORIES OF PEOPLE OF AFRICAN DESCENT TO BE AT THE CENTER OF THEWORK THAT WE'RE DOING.

WHY NAME IT AFTER SOMEONE LIKE BILLIE HOLIDAY?

YOU KNOW, THE BILLIE HOLIDAY THEATER WAS FOUNDED AT A TIME WHERE THERE WAS RACIAL UNREST IN THIS COUNTRY.

WE WERE SEEING RACE RIOTS IN BED-STUY.

WE UNDERSTOOD THAT WE WERE COMING OUT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND MOVING INTO THE BLACK POWER MOVEMENT, THE BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT AND BLACK THEATERS WERE CROPPING UP ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

BILLIE HOLIDAY HAS A HISTORY AND A LEGACY OF BEING NOT ONLY A DYNAMIC MUSICIAN BUT SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTOOD HOW TO TELL A STORY ABOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE AND ABOUT EQUITY AND EQUALITY AND PUT THAT AT THE FOREFRONT, EVEN IF IT WASN'T POPULAR.

I'M REMINDED OFTEN WHEN ASKED THIS QUESTION OF THE 1939 PEACE STRANGE HE DID.

♪ STRANGE ♪

AND HOW THAT PIECE WHEN SHE WAS HAVING IT PERFORMED IN CAVES.

AND MANY PEOPLE DID NOT WANT THAT PIECE STRANGE FRUIT TO THE ALBUM SHE WAS PRODUCING AT THE TIME.

WHEN SHE WOULD PERFORM IT IN CAVES SHE WOULD STOP THE WAIT STAFF AND THE LIGHTS WOULD GO DIM.

AND THEN SHE WOULD START IT AND THE LIGHTS WOULD COME UP ON HER AT THE END OF THE SONG THEY WOULD FADE TO BLACK AND SHE WOULD BE GONE.

AND THAT ALWAYS MAKES ME THINK METAPHORICALLY OF WHO WE ARE AS A PEOPLE AND HOW OUR STORIES ARE OFTEN HIDDEN AND INVISIBLIZED AND NOT SEEN OR HEARD.

AND SO SHE STARTS IN THAT PLACE AND THEN SHE PUTS A SPOTLIGHT ON IT, THIS PRACTICE OF LYNCHING IN A COUNTRY AND THE PRACTICES OF JIM CROW, AND WHAT IT MEANT TO BE A BLACK ARTIST IN 1939 AND WHAT IT MEANT TO BE A BLACK WOMAN IN 1939, AND A BLACK PERSON ON AMERICAN SOIL IN 1939.

AND HERE WE ARE IN 2018.

AND SOME OF THE CHAGS THAT WE'RE STILL DEALING WITH AS A BLACK COMMUNITY ARE STILL RELEVANT.

.

♪ THERE AIN'T NOTHING I CAN'T DO ♪ OR NOTHING I CAN SAY ♪ THAT FOLKS DON'T CRITICIZE ME ♪♪

DO YOU THINK THAT SHE IS SOMEONE THAT IS GIVEN THE RECOGNITION THAT MAYBE SOME OTHER ARTISTS OF HER TIME ARE GIVEN?

DO YOU THINK SHE IS UNDERRATED AT ALL?

I DON'T KNOW THAT I THINK OF HER HISTORY IN THAT WAY.

I THINK THAT THOSE WHO KNOW HISTORY AND KNOW JAZZ AND BLUES HISTORY KNOW HOW SHE REDEFINED THAT GENRE AND HOW SHE WAS A CATALYST IN TERMS OF MOVING IT FORWARD.

SO IF SHE IS NOT KNOWN BY THE MAIN STREAM IT MIGHT MEAN THE MAIN EXTREMIST DOESN'T QUITE KNOW THE HISTORY YET.

THE PLACE IS NAMED AFTER BILLIE HOLIDAY.

WE JUST TALKED ABOUT HER HISTORY.

YEAH.

WHAT ABOUT -- I MEAN I FEEL LIKE HAVING THAT KIND OF A NAME ALSO -- I DON'T WANT TO SAY PUT PRESSURE BUT IT SAYS THIS IS -- THIS IS A PLACE WHERE YOU WANT TO GET QUALITY.

YOU WANT TO SERVE THE COMMUNITY.

HOW DOES THIS THEATER SERVE THE COMMUNITY HERE IN BED-STUY?

YES, SO WE ARE AT THIS INCREDIBLE MOMENT.

LAST YEAR WE RELAUNCHED THE BILLIE HOLIDAY THEATER, REIMAGINING IT AS A WORLD-CLASS INSTITUTION FOR THE COMMUNITY.

BUILT ON THIS NOTION OF LOCAL ARTS EQUITY THAT OUR COMMUNITY HAS THE RIGHT -- IT IS THEIR PRIVILEGE TO HAVE GREAT ART AS A PART OF THEIR EVERY DAY LIVES.

WE UNDERSTAND HOW ART CAN TRANSFORM NOT ONLY INDIVIDUAL LIVES BUT COMMUNITIES.

WE KNOW DATA THAT SUGGESTS THAT CRIME RATES DROP WHEN THERE IS A CULTURAL ANCHOR AND AN ARTS ANCHOR IN A COMMUNITY.

WE KNOW THAT HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES INCREASE WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE ARE EXPOSED TO ART.

SO WE SEE IT NOT ONLY IN TERMS OF PRODUCING EXCELLENT ART BUT ALSO PRODUCING THRIVING, REBUST COMMUNITIES.

AND BED-STUY IS A COMMUNITY THAT IS STEEPED.

IT IS SUCH A CULTURAL WITNESS OF HISTORY HERE.

RICHNESS.

LEENA HORN WAS BORN HER MAX ROACH, UBY BLAKE.

IT HAS THE INCREDIBLE CULTURAL RICHNESS.

WE SEE OURSELVES AS NOT REINCONVENIENTING THE WHEEL BUT TEARING THE TORCH FORWARD INTO THE IT 1st CENTURY AND MAKING SURE THE NEXT GENERATION, THAT THEY UNDERSTAND THE -- THE POWER THAT THEY'VE MERGE OUT OF.

AND THE CULTURAL RICHNESS OF THEIR STORY.

♪ HE IS SO FINE AND MELLOW ♪

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