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Tony Bennett DUETS II: Amy Winehouse – Billie Holiday Connection

By Danny Allen

In the late 1950’s, as I have mentioned before I worked for Errol Flynn who seemed to know everyone in the business from movie stars – to music stars. None were bigger and more talented than the late Billie Holiday. “LADY DAY” as she was known in the music world had a voice that was just amazing. To test my theory, pick up what I think is her greatest work on a Columbia album (I still say album, but I know this generation says CD) called LADY IN SATIN. One track amongst many that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up is YOU’VE CHANGED.

It was around 1956, and Errol had just finished shooting ISTANBUL that actually did decent box office returns and had the late/great Nat King Cole as his co-star who sang WHEN I FALL IN LOVE which was a smash hit for him. I was unable to go with Errol to shoot the movie even though he really wanted me too. I was stuck back in New York working a deal for Marlon Brando to star in SAYNORA which earned Red Buttons an Oscar of all people. Marlon always told me he loved that Red received that Oscar.

Well, one day my phone rings and that voice came across, “Hey Moxie Man your old chum Errol here. Get your shorts on, I have been invited over to Billie Holiday’s apartment in the city (New York) and I told her about you. She wants to meet this young lad I call the Moxie Man.”

I grew up listening to Billie Holiday, but meeting her in person, was a thrill of a lifetime. Her apartment was on the 8th floor and as Errol walked in with me in tow, the smoke was so thick you could cut it. Errol had a great line, “Moxie Man, you know that isn’t smoke from the kitchen, but from the tacky wacky vine, breathe in lad.” For you squares, that means Marijuana and it was plentiful. As Errol and I edged closer to the piano, sitting there with a cigarette in an ash tray, was LADY DAY. She was singing I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU.

I had only heard Frank (Sinatra) sing this song, but Billie as Frank had done before, knocked it out the ball park. Billie looked this young man of just 28 up and down and as if it was just yesterday, I can remember she turned to her old chum Errol and said, “Flynn, you brought one mother fucker of a handsome man to my apartment.” Yes, me, the Moxie Man blushed like a school boy, but that broke the ice for the rest of the night. Billie, as she told me to call her was one of the nicest people I have ever met. She had Errol and me in stitches the entire evening into the wee small hours of the morning. We discussed the business and she actually thanked me for getting Errol some badly needed work. Sadly, she was not in the best of shape from years of drug abuse and I think that bonded her to Errol because he was not in the best of shape either. They were Hollywood and Music Royalty who lived a lot of life in their short time on earth. Billie lived to be only 44 and my dear friend Flynn to 50. Amazing what you think they accomplished between them in such a short time.

This brings me to the late Amy Winehouse. In 2008, I received a call from an old buddy Billy Bravo who worked in the 1950’s as an A & R (Artists and Repertoire) man at Capitol Records when Frank Sinatra ruled the roost there. He told me that he just heard a CD of a fairly new talent named Amy Winehouse and I must listen to it because it put you in the mindset of Billie Holiday and the late Dinah Washington, Nick’s favorite female singer. The album, (there I go again) CD was titled BACK TO BLACK which come to find out, was Amy’s second studio album. The vocals and arrangements were amazing. I cannot say she was a Billie Holiday, but nobody is. However, she was an amazing talent who like Billie, had their candles burn out far too soon because of drugs and a reckless personal life. But in the final analysis, both Billie and Amy’s music will outlive all of us. Their talents are immeasurable.

RIP Billie and Amy. Let the music play on……

Did Amy Winehouse's singing put you in the mindset of the late Billie Holiday?

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