When you’ve watched a movie so many times that you basically know the dialogue verbatim, that movie really means something and resonates with you.
The 1972 autobiographical drama, “Lady Sings the Blues” is the one for me. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old.
Directed by Sidney J. Furie (“Iron Eagle” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”), “Lady Sings the Blues” tells the story of the life of legendary Jazz singer, Billie Holiday, played with incredible verve by the incomparable Diana Ross.
When it was announced by Motown Productions--who produced the movie for Paramount Pictures—that Ross was going to play Holiday, there were many who didn’t believe she could pull it off.
But Ross surprised a lot of the naysayers. Ross delivered such a thoroughly convincing performance. So much so, that “Lady sings The Blues” was nominated for five Academy Awards including one for Ross for “Best Actress in a Leading Role.”
It was also nominated for “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Carl Anderson and Reg Allen), “Best Costume Design” (Norma Koch), “Best Music,” “Original Song Score” and “Adaptation” (Gil Askey & Michel Legrand) along with “Best Writing,” “Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced.”
In addition to Ross, “Lady sings the Blues” features a first-rate cast that includes: Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, James T. Callahan, Isabel Sanford and Scatman Crothers.
When I interviewed Billy Dee Williams a few years ago, he told me that “Brian’s Song” and “Lady Sings the Blues” were the two movies that he was most proud of and how much he enjoyed working with Ross.
“Lady sings the Blues,” centers on the rise and fall of Billie Holiday. It’s 1936 and Holiday is living in New York about to be arrested on drug charges.
The film flashes back to 1928 where we find Billie toiling away as housekeeper at a brothel. She’s raped there, runs away back home to her mother who helps her get another domestic job in Harlem.
Billie tires of it and soon finds herself working as a prostitute. Realizing that life is not going to get her anywhere, she auditions as a singer at a nightclub with the help of a pianist (Richard Pryor). Her opening night is off to a rousing start when a handsome, debonair gentleman named Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams) is clearly taken by Billie and extends a $50 bill to her as he utters the now famous line, “Are You Going to Let My Arm Fall Off?”
Billie and Louis fall hard for each other, but Billie’s love of drugs ruins their relationship and ultimately her life, but not before playing Carnegie Hall, which stands as her signature moment.
Among the Billie Holiday standards performed by Ross in “Lady Sings the Blues” are "My Man," "I Cried for You," "Lover Man," “God Bless the Child” "Them There Eyes," and the title song.
Not only did Motown founder Berry Gordy and his creative assistant Suzanne De Passe strike gold with this movie, they also released a hugely successful soundtrack double-album of Ross' recordings of Billie Holiday songs from the film, which was also titled “Lady Sings the Blues.” The album shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 Album Charts in 1973.
Ross and Billy Dee Williams had such a dynamic chemistry in “Lady Sings the Blues,” that it was no surprise to see them star together again in the 1975 movie, “Mahogany.” It’s a good one too.
If you haven’t seen “Lady Sings the Blues,” check it out. It’s an outstanding, classic African-American movie and why it’s www.N2Entertainment.net’s “Old School Video Pick” this month.
Editor’s Note: Some information used in this report obtained from publicity department press releases.