Andra Day inhabits the essence of Lady Day on "All of Me"
In a 2016 interview, Andra Day talked about the biggest lesson that she drew from her education at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. Day said that her teachers encouraged her to leave everything on the stage or on record. They told Day and her classmates to expose themselves artistically and not worry about the reaction of the critics. Day’s teachers instructed her to look to great singers from the past for inspiration and they led her to legends like Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday.
That advice is especially insightful and foresightful as Day, the Grammy Award nominated chanteuse, will make her debut as an actress in the biopic “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” From a vocal standpoint, you can’t do much better than tapping Andra Day to play the original “Lady Day.” Day possesses the kind of range that allows her to sing a song like her signature tune, the anthem “Rise Up.” But her raspy and sensual voice also conjur up images of the kind of smoky 1950s era jazz club that might have hosted Dinah Washington, Ertha Kitt or Billie Holiday herself.
“United States vs. Billie Holiday,” tells the story the government’s persecution of Holiday that is ostensibly because of her drug addiction. However, Holiday was a civil rights activist who fought against racial segregation, discrimination and especially lynching. That’s really what the FBI didn’t like. And the G-Men absolutely HATED Holiday’s embrace and continual performance of the anti-lynching anthem “Strange Fruit." “Strange Fruit,” is a poem and protest song written in the late 1930s by New York teacher and songwriter Abel Meerpool.
While much of the persecution that Holiday faced centered around her decision to keep singing “Strange Fruit,” the movie and soundtrack for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” features Day’s singing other tunes that Holiday performed, including this swinging version of “All of Me.” Day has the chops to move her vocals into Holiday’s vocal range and she manages to capture for the vulnerability that came through Holiday’s voice while not crossing over into mere copying. Day captures the essence of Lady Day while remaining quintessentially Andra Day. And in doing so, she gives us all of her.