Lady Day and La Divina
Whenever I get asked who inspired me the most, I have to think of two names. Billie Holiday and Maria Callas – and I know that at first sight La Divina and Lady Daycouldn’t be more different but once you think about it…they have one thing in common: both in their own musical universe became one of the most influential singers of the 20th century. Without a doubt Maria Callas and Billie Holiday lived in two completely opposite worlds. It starts with their cultural background and continues with their musical genre - b u t leaving these differences behind and approaching these two artists from a different angle they have a lot more in common then it may seem.
It is unbelievable that they had actually lived at the same time (Billie Holiday is eight years older than Maria Callas) and their careers happenend at the same time sometimes even in the same city – New York. Billie Holiday: „„I never fainted but one time in my life - after my midnight concert at Carnegie hall ten days after getting out of jail.“ On March 27, 1948, Holiday played Carnegie Hall to a sold-out crowd. Callas should have her Metropolitan debut a couple of years later on October 29, 1956. Both changed their names – Eleanora Fagan became Billie Holiday and Sophia Cecelia Kalos became Maria Callas. Without any doubt tragedy has touched both of these women’s lives in very different ways and I don’t want to tell you all about their struggles or scandals over the course of their lives and careers because it did not and should not define them. They were talented, original, hard-working and incredibly courageous women.
I think it is incredible that the way they started and created their musicianship and artistry is profoundly different. But as soon as they started to sing, both of them sang with a presence and emotional power that stands on its own and touches your very core. Both of them made every word their own word, every story their own story, if you call it an aria or a song doesn’t matter. What matters is that each one created their own distinct and individual sound, their own phrasing, their own interpretation based on the musical material they sang. Both have the ability to transfer pure and honest emotion based on their talent, artistry and courage. And they made every note their own. Both had life long musical partners as well as friends: Billie Holiday and Lester Young. Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano. Both set a standard in their field. Both had nicknames: Lady Day and La Divina. And both sang „Summertime“ by George Gershwin!!!
Maria Callas - Summertime
Billie Holiday - Summertime
Callas and Holiday talking about life, music and singing (original quotes):
M. Callas: „So much happiness when you manage to dominate an instrument, that is really very difficult, which is the vocal instrument because it deals with human feelings, with the weather, with how you feel, with circumstances, with millions of odds against you. And you manage to dominate this instrument and convey so many colours it is sort of a drug to you. I must say. If you manage to transmit this to the public – well then this is really the greatest drunkenness and it’s contagious all around…“
B.Holiday: „If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music. I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know. If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all.“
M.Callas: „An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I've left the opera house. I am not an angel and do not pretend to be. That is not one of my roles. But I am not the devil either. I am a woman and a serious artist, and I would like so to be judged.“
B.Holiday: „Let me tell you one thing: You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation. I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been.“
M.Callas: „Sometimes I would like to be Maria, but there is La Callas who demands that I carry myself with her dignity. When my enemies stop hissing, I shall know I'm slipping."
B.Holiday: “Sometimes it's worse to win a fight than to lose. If I don't have friends, then I ain't got nothing. You’ve got to have something to eat, and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body's sermon on how to behave.”
M.Callas: „Wherever I stay I make the goddam rules. Women are not pals enough with men, so we must make ourselves indispensable. After all, we have the greatest weapon in our hands by just being women.“
B. Holiday: “Love is like a faucet: it turns on and off.”
M.Callas: „I prepare myself for rehearsals like I would for marriage. Love is so much better when you're not married.“
B.Holiday: „People don't understand the kind of fight it takes to record what you want to record the way you want to record it.“
M.Callas: „When music fails to agree to the ear, to soothe the ear and the heart and the senses, then it has missed the point. I don't know what happens to me on stage. Something else seems to take over. The singer must serve the music. Not the other way round. If you take the trouble to really listen with your soul and with your ears — and I say soul and ears because the mind must work, but not too much also — you will find every gesture there. And it is all true, you know.
B.Holiday: „It has to have a meaning. A kiss never tasted is forever and ever wasted.“