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Lady Sings the Blues (film)

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4.7/5 Amazon

Genre  Biography, Drama, Music
Country  United States
7.1/10 IMDb

Director  Sidney J. Furie
Language  English
Lady Sings the Blues (film) movie poster
Release date  October 12, 1972 (1972-10-12)
Based on  Lady Sings the Blues  by Billie Holiday William Dufty
Writer  Chris Clark (screenplay), Suzanne De Passe (screenplay), William Dufty (book), Billie Holiday (book), Terence McCloy (screenplay)
Screenplay  Billie Holiday, William Dufty, Suzanne de Passe, Chris Clark, Terence McCloy
Awards  Golden Globe Award for Best New Star of the Year – Actress
Songs  The Arrest
Cast  Diana Ross (Billie Holiday), Billy Dee Williams (Louis McKay), Richard Pryor (Piano Man), James T. Callahan (Reg Hanley (as James Callahan)), Paul Hampton (Harry), Sid Melton (Jerry)
Similar movies  Bird (1988)

Lady sings the blues trailer 1972 music by michel legrand

Lady Sings the Blues is a 1972 American biographical drama film directed by Sidney J. Furie about jazz singer Billie Holiday, loosely based on her 1956 autobiography which, in turn, took its title from one of Holiday's most popular songs. It was produced by Motown Productions for Paramount Pictures. Diana Ross portrayed Holiday, alongside a cast including Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, James T. Callahan, and Scatman Crothers.


Lady Sings the Blues (film) movie scenes

Lady sings the blues trailer 1972


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In 1945 New York City, Billie Holiday is arrested on a drugs charge.

Lady Sings the Blues (film) Black Cinema LADY SINGS THE BLUES BadAzz MoFo

In a flashback to 1928, Billie is working as a housekeeper in a brothel in Baltimore where she is raped. She runs away to her mother, who sets up a job cleaning for another brothel in the Harlem section of New York. The brothel is run by an arrogant, selfish owner who pays Billie very little money.

Lady Sings the Blues (film) Lady Sings the Blues Movie Review 1972 Roger Ebert

Eventually, Billie tires of scrubbing floors and becomes a prostitute, but later quits and returns to a nightclub to unsuccessfully audition to become a showgirl. After "Piano Man" accompanies Billie when she sings "All of Me", club owner Jerry books her as a singer in the show.

Lady Sings the Blues (film) CST KBOO Jazz Series presents LADY SINGS THE BLUES The Clinton

Billie's debut begins unsuccessfully until Louis McKay arrives and gives her a fifty dollar tip. Billie takes the money and sings "Them There Eyes". Billie takes a liking to Louis and begins a relationship with him. Eventually she is discovered by Harry and Reg Hanley, who sign her as a soloist for their southern tour in hopes of landing a radio network gig. During the tour, Billie witnesses the aftermath of the lynching of an African-American man, which presses her to record the controversial song "Strange Fruit". The harsh experiences on the tour result in Billie taking drugs which Harry supplies. One night when Billie is performing, Louis comes to see Billie. She collapses on stage. In her dressing room, Louis notices her needle marks, knows that she is doing drugs, and tells her she is going home with him. Billie promises to stay off the drugs if Louis stays with her.

Lady Sings the Blues (film) BAM Lady Sings the Blues

In New York, Reg and Louis arrange Billie's radio debut, but the station does not call her to sing; the radio sponsors, a soap company, object to her race. The group heads to Cafe Manhattan to drown their sorrows. Billie has too much to drink and asks Harry for drugs, saying that she does not want her family to know that the radio show upset her. He refuses and she throws her drink in his face. She is ready to leave, but Louis has arranged for her to sing at the Cafe, a club where she once aspired to sing. She obliges with one song but refuses an encore, leaving the club in urgent need of a fix. Louis, suspicious that Billie has broken her promise, takes her back to his home but refuses to allow her access to the bathroom or her kit. She fights Louis for it, pulling a razor on him. Louis leaves her to shoot up, telling her he does not want her there when he returns.

Lady Sings the Blues (film) Sings The Blues Billie Holiday Biopic Starring Diana Ross and

Billie returns to the Harlem nightclub, where her drug use intensifies until she hears of the death of her mother. Billie checks herself into a drug clinic, but because she cannot afford her treatment the hospital secretly calls Louis, who comes to see her and agrees to pay her bills without her knowledge. Impressed with the initiative she has taken to straighten herself out, Louis proposes to her at the hospital. Just as things are looking up, Billie is arrested for possession of narcotics and removed from the clinic.

In prison, Billie goes through crippling withdrawal. Louis brings the doctor from the hospital to treat her, but she is incoherent. He puts a ring on her finger to remind her of his promise to marry her. When she finishes her prison sentence, Billie returns home and tells her friends that she does not want to sing anymore. Billie marries Louis and pledges not to continue her career, but the lure of performing is too strong and she returns to singing with Louis as her manager. Unfortunately, her felony conviction has stripped her of her Cabaret Card, which would allow her to sing in NYC nightclubs. To restore public confidence and regain her license, Billie agrees to a cross-country tour. Billie's career takes off on the nightclub circuit.

Louis leaves for New York to arrange a comeback performance for Billie at Carnegie Hall. Despondent at Louis' absence and the never-ending stream of venues, Billie asks Piano Man to pawn the ring Louis gave her in exchange for drugs. While they are high that evening, Piano Man's drug connections arrive; he neither pawned the ring nor paid for the drugs. Piano Man is killed by the dealers. Within the hour, Louis and her promoter call Billie with news that they got Carnegie Hall. Louis returns to find a very fragile Billie who is traumatized and has fallen back into drugs. Louis takes her back to New York.

Billie plays to a packed house at Carnegie Hall. Her encore, "God Bless the Child", is overlaid with newspaper clippings highlighting subsequent events: the concert fails to sway the Commission to restore her license; subsequent appeals are denied; she is later re-arrested on drug charges and finally dies when she is 44. Nevertheless, the Carnegie triumph is frozen in time.


  • Diana Ross as Billie Holiday
  • Billy Dee Williams as Louis McKay
  • Richard Pryor as Piano Man
  • James Callahan as Reg Hanley
  • Paul Hampton as Harry
  • Sid Melton as Jerry
  • Virginia Capers as Sadie Fagan Holiday, Billie's mother
  • Yvonne Fair as Yvonne
  • Isabel Sanford as Madame
  • Jester Hairston as Fefe
  • Lynn Hamilton as Aunt Ida
  • Victor Morosco as Vic
  • Robert Gordy as The Hawk
  • Harry Caesar as The Rapist
  • Paulene Myers as Mrs. Edson
  • Scatman Crothers as Big Ben
  • Box office

    The film earned an estimated $9,050,000 in North American rentals in 1973.

    Awards and honors

    It was nominated for five Academy Awards. The nominations were for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Diana Ross), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Carl Anderson and Reg Allen), Best Costume Design (Norma Koch), Best Music, Original Song Score and Adaptation (Gil Askey & Michel Legrand) and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced. The film was also screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition.

    The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

  • 2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
  • "God Bless the Child" – Nominated
  • Soundtrack

    Motown released a hugely successful soundtrack double-album of Ross' recordings of Billie Holiday songs from the film, also titled Lady Sings the Blues. The album went to number one on the Billboard Hot 200 Album Charts, for the week-ending dates of April 7 and 14, 1973.


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    Similar Topics
    Billie Holiday
    Billy Dee Williams
    Diana Ross