'United States Vs. Billie Holiday': Five Facts About Lead Actress Andra Day
Day says she was inspired to become an R&B musician because of singers like Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald
Andra Day as Billie Holiday. Photo Credit: Hulu/Takashi Seida
Hulu’s anticipated biopic of one of Jazz music’s most iconic voices, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” premieres this week, and features singer and actress Andra Day in her breakout role as Lady Day.
The film directed by Lee Daniels examines Holiday’s prolific and groundbreaking career as a jazz singer, and also focuses on the U.S. government’s plots to silence her and prevent her from using her voice to keep inspiring a growing civil rights movement that was beginning to take hold in the 1960s. “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” will begin streaming on Hulu Feb. 26.
Andra Day isn’t new to showbiz — she’s been a professional R&B singer since 2015. But for most moviegoers, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” will be their introduction to Day, so here are a few facts about the actress’ life and work leading up to this momentous role. You can check out Hulu’s trailer for the upcoming biopic below.
Day is also an acclaimed singer
Obviously it was important to Daniels to cast someone with musical chops in this film, but he also wanted an actress who could imitate Holiday’s signature smoky, lingering sound. Day fit the role perfectly: she’s been a singer for years and released her debut album, “Cheers to the Fall” (produced in part by Raphael Saadiq and Jenn Decilveo) in 2015. The album was a hit and Day received a nomination for Best R&B Album at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Day has also toured and recorded with artists like Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keys, and Regina Spektor — the last two she worked with as part of “The Hamilton Mixtape,” a 2016 collaboration album that remixed songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical.
In an interview with her hometown paper following the Grammys, Day told the San Diego Union-Tribune that she was inspired to become a singer because of the women who blazed the trail before her; including Holiday, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald.
Those musical chops were essential in this film, since Day covers Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” arguably her most famous song about racism and the lynching of Black Americans — the song galvanized the nation and eventually motivated the FBI to sabotage her career.
She’s supported by stars like Stevie Wonder and Spike Lee
Day got a huge lift early in her career from one of music’s biggest names — R&B legend Stevie Wonder. In 2010, Day was performing in strip malls near her home in San Diego, and one of the people in the crowd was Wonder’s then-wife, Kai Millard. Millard videotaped Day’s performance and played it for Wonder, who then personally called Day to offer her a way into the music business.
“I was living in a tiny little studio apartment with my mom… I didn’t believe it,” Day told LiveNation in 2016.
The two eventually ended up collaborating on a duet, and released the holiday song “Someday at Christmas” in 2015.
Day said she met Lee at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and he was so moved by her performance at the event he offered to direct the music video for Day’s hit single, “Forever Mine.”
She took her first leading role incredibly seriously
Day said she wanted to portray Holiday accurately, even though that took immense emotional effort. “I was a fan of [Holiday] long, long before this, since I was 11 years old,” Day told E! News.
She added that she prepared intensely for the film, to both learn as much as she could about Holiday and get in character. “I read every book I could get my hands on, read every magazine article. Disparaging articles, positive ones, ones about her fashion… studying the FBI even. It was the emotional work, that was the really challenging thing for me,” Day said. “There was a lot, a lot of work, a lot of research, a lot of transformation, but it was definitely worth it. She is worth it and I do believe God wanted this story told.”
Day’s not afraid to be open about her political affiliations
Some singers shy away from taking political stances early in their career, but Day never held back from sharing her beliefs. She’s openly supported Democratic politicians and performed her hit song “Rise Up” for the Obamas at the White House in 2016. Day also performed at a rally for then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton the same year.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” isn’t her first film role
But, it’s certainly her most-anticipated and definitely her first leading role. Day’s previous filmography includes a role in the 2017 films “Marshall” — where she plays a lounge singer. Day also acted in Disney-Pixar’s “Cars 3,” where she voiced a former pit stop car turned waitress (and again, occasional lounge singer) named Sweet Tea.
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