Singer Andra Day made Golden Globes history by becoming the second Black woman ever to win Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for her performance in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” after Whoopi Goldberg 35 years ago for her performance in “The Color Purple.”
In her acceptance speech, Day thanked Billie Holiday who “transformed” her with her role and “her presence and with her spirit.”
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” dramatizes the final years in the life of Holiday, the famous jazz singer, who faced a lot of persecution from the U.S. government over her performance of the song “Strange Fruit,” which was about the horrors of lynching. Day lost 39 pounds and started drinking and smoking to prepare for the role.
Day, who is a San Diego local, started her career as a singer and songwriter. Her first debut album was “Cheers to the Fall.” At the 2016 Grammy Awards, the album was nominated for Best R&B Album and the album’s main single, “Rise Up,” was nominated for Best R&B performance.
Day’s song “Rise Up” is what put her on the map and it has become an empowerment anthem, especially in the Black Lives Matter organization that represents standing up for oppression and persecution. The inspiration for that song came from Day’s own personal life when a friend of hers was diagnosed with cancer.
Lee Daniels, the director of the film, was inspired as a young boy by watching Diana Ross light up the screen as Billie Holiday in 1972’s “Lady Sings the Blues” to one day create these types of cinematic moments.
Daniels needed to find an actress who would do justice to Holiday’s legacy. Many people in his circle suggested Day, but Daniels was skeptical in the beginning.
Daniels could tell that Day had the spirit of Billie Holiday, but Day was not an actress, so he sent her to his acting coach and vocal coach friends. When Day came back to audition for the role, she blew him away.
She admitted that she was scared when she accepted the role. Even though she is a huge Billie Holiday fan and thought that Diana Ross did an amazing job in portraying the legendary jazz singer in “Lady Sing the Blues,” Day did not have any acting experience. Her closest experience was musical theatre in middle and high school.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” was released on Feb. 26 and received two Golden Globe nominations: one for Best Actress in Motion Picture Drama and the other for Best Original Song “Tigress and Tweed.”
Daniels acknowledges the value of the film’s nominations. He feels honored that his film is getting so much recognition.
In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday, Day said that Billie Holiday has changed her.
“I will say that the portrayal of Billie was paradigm-shifting, life-altering, so I’m changed so drastically even with the role alone,” she said. “Even if not had all of this had not happened on the heels of all of it.”