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Despite being one of the most recognizable names in the world of jazz, Billie Holiday's early life gave very little indication of the superstar she would become. Born Eleanora Fagan, Holiday's father was a jazz musician-but he had no role in raising her. Her unmarried parents were young and impoverished, and Holiday was often left in the care of others while her mother sought employment in other cities. It was only after briefly turning, in desperation, to prostitution that Holiday began collaborating with her neighbor, saxophonist Kenneth Hollan, on a nightclub act which they performed around Harlem. Soon, Holiday was laying down her first recordings with Benny Goodman at the age of just 18. Her genius style of jazz improvisation lent her vocal performances a revolutionary sense of newness, and she would go on to tour with greats like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, recording songs that would become standards like the chilling anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit," "Lover Man," and "God Bless the Child." Holiday performed around Europe and gave a number of sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall at a time when racial prejudice and segregation made these rarities. Tragically, Holiday struggled with heroin addiction and alcoholism for several years, eventually succumbing to a pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver. She died in New York City at the age of 44.
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