Graduation Date


Document Type

Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Humanities and Cultural Studies

Department or Program Chair

Chase Clow, PhD

First Reader

Robert Bradford, MA


Billie Holiday came into this life faced with many hardships and struggles. She was raised with harsh realities and hard choices inherent in an inequitable culture that allowed discrimination, segregation, disenfranchisement, and continued acts of oppression and brutality. Her life story, her musicality, her songwriting, her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, and the feeling that she put into almost everything she touched created a lasting legacy. This essay examines how Billie Holiday was able to channel her emotionality and her life experiences into her art. It draws from Billie Holiday’s autobiography and her songs, from the work of noted music and jazz historians, and from social activist Angela Davis. The life and the life work of Billie Holiday can be used to shed light on the transformational power of music as a vehicle for both personal and cultural change. Although Billie Holiday was an iconic figure, this ability to communicate and alter one’s personal, sociological, and cultural perspective through the arts, in this case music and literature, is accessible to and through each and every one of us.