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Billie Holiday, June Jordan, and Rudy Galindo

Billie Holiday
b. April 7, 1915, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
d. July 17, 1959, New York, New York

“I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my way of it.”

If one has to live the blues to sing the blues, it is no wonder that Billie Holiday became a legendary jazz/blues vocalist and songwriter and a seminal influence in phrasing, tempo and style.

Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, Holiday was raised in Baltimore. Her mother, Sadie Fagan, was a young teen when she gave birth to Billie. While Billie’s paternity is uncertain, jazz guitarist Clarence Holiday accepted that he was probably her father.

Holiday dropped out of school around the fifth grade when she started housekeeping for a brothel. At age 10, she was sexually assaulted and sent to a reform school. At age 13, she moved to Harlem to be with her mother. Captivated by the 1920s jazz sounds of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, Holiday began singing at Harlem night clubs.

At age 18, she recorded songs with Benny Goodman, and by age 20, she had signed as a recording star with Brunswick Records. During this time, she recorded with the swing era’s greatest musicians.

In her mid-20s, Holiday was the lead vocalist for the Count Bassie Band. She moved to the Artie Shaw Band, where she was one of the first African-Americans to work with a white orchestra.

Holiday’s best-known recordings include “Summertime,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Easy Swing,” “Strange Fruit,” “I’ll Get By,” “Lover Man,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” and many other classics.

Holiday married jazz trombonist Jimmy Monroe. She divorced Monroe and married an abusive mafioso, Louis McKay. Though married, she is said to have had affairs with Hollywood stars and starlets, most notably Tallulah Bankhead.

Due to heroin addiction and fiscal mismanagement, Holiday died destitute at 44 years old.

June Jordan
b. July 9, 1936, Harlem, New York
d. June 14, 2002, Berkeley, California

“To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.”

June Jordan was an activist, journalist, essayist, educator and celebrated African-American poet. Her commitment to fighting oppression, particularly of women and blacks, was the defining element of her work.

Jordan discovered her calling as a poet at an early age. Her father loved literature and maintained irrationally high expectations of Jordan. He required his young daughter to memorize poetry from the time she could read. Although these compulsory assignments strained Jordan’s relationship with her father, they also ignited her passion for language. Speaking of this fraught parental relationship, she said, “My father was very intense, passionate and over-the-top. He was my hero and my tyrant.”

Jordan attended Barnard College in New York, but left without graduating because of her opposition to the white patriarchal curriculum. In 1969 she published her first book of poetry, “Who Look at Me.” Jordan composed this work in black English vernacular, which she believed was an essential characteristic of her culture.

Throughout her prolific career, Jordan’s work ranged from poems to political essays to children’s literature. Though it spanned numerous genres, her work was consistent in engaging social issues and speaking out against oppression.

Jordan received many awards including a lifetime achievement award from the National Black Writers’ Conference. She was well respected and taught at prominent universities including Yale and University of California, Berkeley.

After battling breast cancer, Jordan died at age 65. Toni Morrison described Jordan’s legacy best: “forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art.”

Rudy Galindo
Olympic Figure Skater
b. September 7, 1969, San Jose, California

“HIV-AIDS is not a death sentence. You can go out there and do what you want.”

In 1996 Rudy Galindo became the first United States skating champion to come out as openly gay.

Galindo is famous for his grace on the ice. A singles and doubles skating phenomenon, he won the World Junior Championship in 1987 and the U.S. National Championship in 1997. With doubles partner Kristi Yamaguchi, he won the World Junior Championship in 1988 and the U.S. National Championship in 1989 and 1990. In 1996 he won the bronze medal at the World Championships.

In 1997 Galindo published his autobiography, which recounted his childhood of poverty, the death of his older brother and a coach from AIDS, the death of his domineering father, and his mother’s mental illness.

In 2000 Galindo came out as HIV-positive. In 2001 he was awarded the Ryan White Award for Service to Prevent HIV/AIDS.