• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2021: Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

Andra Day was honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with two Golden Globe nominations, as Best Actress in a Drama for The United States vs. Billie Holiday directed by Lee Daniels, and for Best Original Song, “Tigress & Tweed,” in the same film.
Born Cassandra Batie, Day chose her stage name as a singer/songwriter in homage to Billie Holiday’s nickname, Lady Day, and after her stunning acting debut in the movie, she proved herself to have been the right choice to play the legendary singer. She was reluctant to accept the role at first, but director Lee Daniel said that, once she had done so, she trusted him blindly and agreed “to jump off the cliff.” The movie focuses on how J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spied on the jazz singer and arrested her for drug possession, trying to stop her from singing the protest ballad about lynching, “Strange Fruit.” Day said that she was nervous and terrified of being terrible and dishonoring a singer that she had admired since she was a child, but “my incentive was vindicating her legacy.” She had no desire to remake the movie Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross, as much as she admired Ross’ performance because she felt that film did not give the full picture of the singer’s life. But when Lee Daniels explained that his movie would be revelatory of how “the war on drugs was wholly entrenched in race,” that the government was going after Holiday, because “she was letting the world know about racial terror in America and that lynching was a virtual genocide,” she felt grateful that “people will get to know Billie Holiday as the Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement.” She agreed to do the movie for the chance to tell “Black stories, women stories, LGBTQ stories, about communities that have been intentionally marginalized by mainstream society.” She added, “There is a reason why these stories are suppressed, and the narrative is often changed to limit the scope of our struggle and our contribution. But a prevalent system of oppression cannot continue when the truth is told, which is integral to our survival as a society.”
As to the fact that Billie Holiday had love affairs with women, such as the actress Tallulah Bankhead, played by Natasha Lyonne in the movie, Day said, “Lady was vulnerable and felt love more with women than I believe she ever did with men.” Her relationship with her abusive manager husband, Louis McKay, “was for survival, but with Tallulah and other women she had relationships with, she was able to be free, childlike, playful and present, and to really allow herself to be loved.”
Day grew up in San Diego, California, and graduated from the School of Creative and Performing Arts in 2003. She credits her mother for praying for her and for teaching her to have faith in Christ. “My mom reminds me of Billie Holiday in the way that she receives people, loves them and celebrates them as they are, in the same kind of judgment free zone.” As a result, Day is also a spiritual person, “I pray a lot.”
Day recorded her debut album Cheers to the Fall (2015) and sang the single “Rise Up” at the White House: M. Night Shyamalan directed the music video. She said, “With ‘Rise Up’ I was not trying to write an anthem song at all. A friend of mine was dying of cancer, so it came out as a prayer asking, what do you want to hear, what do you want to say to me?”
Of the song “Tigress & Tweeds”, she said, “It is an anthemic, protest song, it was inspired by Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit.’ We wanted a song that motivated people and reminded them that we do have the power to move things forward.”  When she sings “Strange Fruit” in the movie, she does not want people listening to it to think it’s wonderful: “it is a painful, dark song, but it’s also victorious, it means triumph, and it continues to be relevant, because lynching is still legal in America.” She hopes that, after last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, and under the new administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the Black community will continue to make “strides towards equality.”