Billie Holiday Meets Neslon Algren

Once Nelson Algren accompanied Studs Terkel to see Billie Holiday perform. Here’s how he tells the story. Billie’s voice was shot by that time but the gardenia in her hair was fresh. Ben Webster was backing her on tenor sax. There was only 10 or 15 customers in the joint. Sad. Lady Day sang “Fine and Mellow,” and “Willow, Willow Weep for Me.” I was crying and I looked around and all the other customers were crying too. She still had something that distinguishes the artist from the performer.
After her performance Nelson and I met with her in her dressing room which was in reality just a storeroom. Lady bade us to sit. Nelson slouched in the shadows against the wall. She patiently answered all my questions which I am sure she had been asked a thousand time before. When the conversation ended she looked over to the slouching figure in the darkness and asked, “Who is that man?”
Nelson explained that he and she both had the same publisher. “The Man With the Golden Arm” and “Lady Sings the Blues” had both been published by Doubleday.
“You’re all right,” she said to him.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“You’re wearing glasses.”
He laughed. “I know some people with glasses who’ve got dollar signs for eyes.”
“You’re kind.”
“How can you tell?”
“Your glasses.”

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