I first cut my teeth on jazz legend Billie Holiday’s soul rending discography in my early 20s. What a revelation. The first time that I heard Lady Day’s rendition of Good Morning Heartache was akin to when I discovered the Beatles ten years earlier as a teenager. It was revelatory and earthshaking and I was convinced in only the way a very young person can be that Billie’s unimitable voice had not existed until I played that cheap Best of cd. She seemed to sing directly to me, a young beatnik punk knocking around in the Lone Star State attempting to discover himself. Perhaps that’s one of the explanation for Billie Holiday’s timelessness: Her fractured and love-drenched vocals always seem to be crooning for an audience of two – yourself and her. That’s pretty doggone intimate and goes at least some short way in explaining the evergreen quality of her recording catalogue.
Billie Holiday is getting the spotlight in film once again thanks to Lee Daniels and the fine folks at Hulu. The streaming giant has, according to our fellow audiophiles at Variety, bought the domestic distribution rights to director Lee Daniels’ new film The United States vs. Billie Holiday just in time for Oscar consideration this year. The film has knocked around for a while looking for a streaming service courtesy of CAA Media Finance. Initially set to encamp at Paramount, the pandemic derailed that deal as it proved difficult to find a way to allow a theatrical release due to the many theater shutdowns over the last year. The deal officially never closed, allowing Hulu to rescue the film by stepping into Paramount’s shoes.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday takes a close look at the vendetta visited upon the legendary and troubled singer by none other than the Federal Department of Narcotics. In a twist of fate usually reserved for one of her songs of heartbreak, the investigation into Holiday (played in the film by Andra Day) was led by an undercover federal agent with whom she had a tempestuous affair. Ouch.
The movie features an all-star cast led by Day. Also on the dance card for the film are actors Natasha Lyonne, Trevante Rhodes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Garrett Hedlund. The United States vs. Billie Holiday is tentatively set to premiere in theaters on February 26, 2021.