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Billie Holiday's "My Man": 5 Facts You Should Know | GRAMMY Hall Of Fame
In music, there are hot artists, there are superstars and then there are pioneers. Billie Holiday brought an intimacy, emotion and relevance to the songs she sang, sending ripples of inspiration and cultural impact through the generations to follow. This year, one of her most enduring signature recordings, "My Man," gets its due induction to the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame as part of the class of 2018.
Holiday would go on to be an important voice in both the American jazz revolution and the revolutionary struggle for civil rights. She fronted Count Basie's big band and even went toe-to-toe with Ella Fitzgerald in popularity. Ultimately, she found mainstream success while creating some of the most culturally significant music of its— or of any — time.
In 1937, at age 22, Holiday took "My Man," a song that was by no means new, and breathed a completely new spirit into its form, giving it meaning beyond words and soul beyond sound. To get our heads and hearts in the right place to appreciate this seminal recording, take a look at five facts you may not know about "My Man."
1. French Origins
"My Man" was originally composed in French as "Mon Homme" by Jacques Charles, Channing Pollock, Albert Willemetz and Maurice Yvain. It was copywritten in France in 1920 by Charles and Wilemetz, even though it had been made a hit four years prior by French actress/singer Mistinguett. However, it didn't take long for an English version to emerge. A recording of the song by Fanny Brice for the Broadway revue show "Ziegfield Follies" became a hit in 1921. Over 75 years later, Brice's version was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999.
2. Holiday Makes It Her Own
Although the English version was already well known, by the time Holiday got her hands on the song in 1937 she had turned it into a different monster. Gone were the theatrical flourishes and rapid vibrato that the early English versions made palatable for a variety show crowd. Instead, Holiday made the song weep and moan, bringing a decidedly American jazz and blues tilt. Pianist Teddy Wilson and clarinetist Prince Robinson sway gently and tastefully behind Holiday as her unmistakable voice saturates the spaces left by the music with a devoted sorrow, giving the lyrics the weight they deserve.
Brice's aforementioned version remained more popular to the general public, but Holiday's version would have its day. The iconic singer would include the song in several key live recordings years later in the 1950s.
3. Song For The Greats
Holiday might have been the first great American singer to bring us "My Man," but she was far from the last. Many other GRAMMY-winning and -nominated vocalists would record the song. Peggy Lee sang it in 1959 for her I Like Men! album. Barbra Streisand interpreted it for the Funny Girl soundtrack in 1968, a film adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. Diana Ross also recorded several live versions of the song, and even Etta James tackled the song on her 2001 album, Blue Gardenia.
Other legendary vocalists to honor the song with a performance include Sarah Vaughan and the aforementioned Fitzgerald. While each of these singers brought something special to the composition, Holiday's version arguably remains the benchmark for emotive expression.
4. J. Cole Channels Holiday
Rapper J. Cole built his song "Cost Me A Lot" from his Friday Night Lights mixtape around "My Man," sampling Holiday and looping the lyric that provided the song's title. Cole's version proves the sentiment Holiday was able to express is universal and timeless, even though he approaches the theme of the song from a different angle.
"I don't love no material thing/ but I'm in love with the feelings they bring," Cole raps, using the material interpretation of the line to turn the focus back to a sentimental place, executing a clever spin. Holiday's sped-up voice pokes in between lines in the verse, creating a unique new take on the classic.
5. "My Man" On TV
In 2011 the hit TV Show "Glee" was garnering millions of viewers, due in part to the many fresh versions of classic songs that were delivered to a young audience by a crew of talented young vocalists. One of the show's stars, Lea Michele, delivered her own performance of "My Man," first on the show, and later at MusiCares Person of the Year tribute honoring Streisand.
That same year, singer/songwriter Regina Spektor contributed a version of "My Man" to the soundtrack of "Boardwalk Empire." Spektor's version retains the air of authenticity of Holiday's rendition, but adds some of the musical peaks and valleys suitable for the dramatic narrative of television.