There are times that I thank God, the Fates, or whomever for truly great moments in musical history, and "The Essential Billie Holiday" is definitely one of them. I first heard this album when I 17 years old and from the opening strains of "Lady Sings The Blues" to the final bars of "What A Little Moonlight Can Do", I was hooked. I committed that entire album to memory in less than two weeks, every note, nuance and shade. Lady could convey more about love, life and hunger in one song than most of us could over the course of an entire lifetime. Her voice had gotten rougher in her later years but to me that just made it all the more expressive.
I won't get into the darker aspects of Lady's life; those who are into Billie Holiday are all too familiar with that, and for those who aren't, I strongly suggest you read her autobiography, "Lady Sings The Blues". This concert, taped in November of 1956, just three years before her death in July of 1959, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lady was indeed on top that night, the most honest JAZZ singer this backwards country ever produced.
I stress the word jazz because so many people tend to categorize Lady as a blues singer, something that she herself to a degree took humbrage to. Out of the hundreds of songs she recorded, less than a handful were stamped with letter, if not spirit of the blues. Don't believe me, listen with your own ears and judge for yourself, then you'll know what I'm talking about.