If you’re a fan of the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, you’re probably looking forward to the release of the upcoming film The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Based in part on the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, the biographical movie is already generating Oscar buzz for its star, Andra Day. Here’s a look at the rising career of this talented singer and actress.
Who Is Andra Day?
Andra Day was born in Edmonds, Washington on December 30, 1984. Raised in San Diego, California, she’s best known for her success as a singer-songwriter. Her unique, retro-soul style has earned her comparisons to music legends like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as modern-day artists such as Amy Winehouse and Adele.
Day’s first album, Cheers to the Fall, was released in 2015 and received instant critical acclaim. It peaked at number 48 on the Billboard 200 list and earned the singer two Grammy nominations, including one for the album’s hit ballad, “Rise Up.” The 36-year-old singer also earned an NAACP Award nomination for Outstanding New Artist and received the Powerhouse Award at the 2016 Billboard Women in Music event.
Day has said that one of the guiding principles behind her songwriting is honesty, and she has worked hard to write songs that promote positive messages of love, compassion, and tolerance.
“In my music I try to put across a message about being authentic and honest,” she says on her record label’s website. “I know a lot of music talks about heartbreak, as in having a heart broken, but I wanted to explore what it feels like to break someone’s heart too, because there are lessons in there for all of us that teach us how to treat people; how to learn, share, and grow; how to be understanding of others; how to forgive and also how to be forgiven.”
Andra Day Stars In ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’
Day’s role in The United States vs. Billie Holiday marks the singer’s feature film debut (other than appearing in Cars 3 as a voice actor). The movie, which is set for wide release on February 26th on Hulu, follows the life of iconic blues singer Billie Holiday. Specifically, it focuses on her early involvement in the civil rights movement and how, as a minority, she was unfairly targeted by the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
The movie’s director, Lee Daniels, says that casting someone to play the legendary songstress was no easy feat. “That was the most important thing, and I had auditioned many great actors for the role,” he told Vogue earlier this year.
Because Andra Day had no serious prior acting experience, Daniels was hesitant to consider her for the part.
“People had been telling me that I should take a look at Andra, but I don’t like being told what to do!” he said. “I had been resisting it, but finally I caved and I met with her at Soho House in West Hollywood, and I was immediately smitten.”
Clearly, he made the right choice. Despite some nerves about being new to acting, Day worked hard and prepared diligently for the role.
“I studied, I read every autobiography, listened to her old interviews, watched every documentary, researched as much as I possibly could,” she told Vogue. “To better understand her addictions, I spoke with former heroin addicts and learned what that [experience] is truly like. I didn’t only want the highlights of Billie’s life—I had to know what drove her.”
Andra Day Thinks It’s Important To “Stand Up For Something”
Like the legendary singer she portrays in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Day is an activist who believes in standing up for the causes she cares about. In a 2017 interview with iHeartRadio she explained:
“I stand up for a lot of things. Like, actual organizations, and then just truths, ideas, and concepts. I stand up for equality, I stand up for truth. I stand up for love that is unconditional. For the type of love that allows people to go through ups and downs in their life without judging them, and understanding that you love someone, whether you understand them or not. I stand up for women’s rights, I stand up for equal justice. I stand up for people who don’t have a voice, or the voice they have is being squashed. There are a lot of organizations I work with, Equal Justice Initiative, Urban Arts Partnership, inner city youth that don’t have access to certain school programs, arts programs. I stand up for artistic expression, and I stand up for my faith, my love of God. I stand up for my family. I think we all stand up for more every day than we realize we do.”
In 2017, the outspoken singer joined rapper Common to record the song “Stand Up For Something.” It was released as the lead single for Marshall, a movie about legendary Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. The song was quickly adopted as a protest anthem for numerous causes, including the #MeToo movement, immigrant rights awareness, and gun violence prevention.
The song was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. During their performance at the 2018 ceremony, Common and Day invited notable activists such Tarana Burke, Patrisse Cullors, and Alice Brown Otter to join them on stage.
“What we hoped to convey is the essence of this song,” Day said of the performance. “These are all people who have fought through their own personal pain to make things better for themselves and for others. The other message is [to] have people from so many different walks of life…My prayer is that seeing these people and what they do is that catalyst to find the courage to stand up and to serve. I’m of the opinion that, as people, in our essence, we were designed to serve each other and society at large.”