Johns Hopkins University Libraries has acquired a new archive of materials relating to jazz vocalist Billy Holiday’s early life in Baltimore. This collection, amassed by a Billie Holiday biographer during the 1970s and stored during the last 30 years by a private collector, is considered the most significant Billie Holiday material to be made available in decades.
The new collection includes the earliest known photo of Billie Holiday—a posed studio shot taken in 1917 when she was 2 years old — ephemera such as programs from clubs, hand-written set lists, and a grocery shopping list. But Johns Hopkins historians say the most important items are 140 taped interviews with not only musicians and jazz scholars but Holiday’s childhood friends and neighbors from Baltimore.
“Billie Holiday is beloved by people all over the world, but she grew up in Baltimore. As a university with incredible resources that’s located here, it really makes sense for us to invest in understanding Holiday’s life and music — not just for their own sake but also as a way to better understand this city’s history, in particular this city’s Black community and Black culture,” said curator Gabrielle Dean, the William Kurrelmeyer Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts in the university’s Sheridan Libraries. “Billie Holiday is kind of like a poster child for all of the Baltimore stories we haven’t told yet.”