In the early 1900’s, experimental musicians began to form a sound that we today know as jazz. This new form of music was largely created by African Americans living in the American south. Two African American women that had a tremendous impact on jazz music are Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Billie Holiday (1916-1959) is one of the most famous and influential jazz singers of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Holiday is most well known for her incredible control over the unique sound of her voice. Although Holiday experienced severe racism and discrimination, she still managed to make a career for herself by performing at various nightclubs during the 1930’s. Despite her success and fame, Holiday struggled with mental illness throughout her life, and eventually died due to effects from drug addiction and alcohol.
The Billie Holiday stamp was designed by Howard Koslow for the American Music Series: Jazz Singers Issue. The stamp was issued in Greenville, Mississippi, during the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival. The stamp contains a photograph of Billie Holiday taken by William O. Gottlieb in 1940.
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) is one of the most well known jazz artists of the twentieth century. Fitzgerald began her career in 1934 after winning a contest at the Apollo. Like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald experienced the racism of her time period and was discriminated against in many venues. However, she did receive the opportunity to play at the popular Mocambo Club due to Marilyn Monroe’s promise to the venue owner that she would attend the club each night Fitzgerald played. Despite the racism she encountered, Ella Fitzgerald ultimately became one of the most successful artists in her time, and won thirteen Grammy awards and the National Medal of Arts throughout her career. In addition to her musical career, Fitzgerald was also very charitable towards children’s organizations.
The Ella Fitzgerald stamp was designed by Ethel Kessler for the Black Heritage Series. The picture on the stamp was made by Paul Davis and was based on a 1956 photograph of Fitzgerald. The ceremony for the stamp was held at the Lincoln Center in New York, New York.