For Billie Holiday's 100th-birthday celebration, local jazz vocalist Venus Cruz saw an opportunity to honor both the icon's role in American history and jazz's place in Denver's story. This Saturday, April 11, Cruz and a group of fellow musicians will pay tribute to Holiday inside the Great Hall at Union Station — a venue Cruz saw as historically fit for such a show.
"I read about the events happening in New York at the Apollo Theater and I thought it would be great to do an event here," says Cruz. "Not to compare New York's music history to Denver, but Denver's Five Points neighborhood had a thriving jazz scene, and Billie Holiday sang here. She was, and remains, one of those artists that resonates with everyone; there's nobody like her."
Holiday's official birthday was this past Tuesday, April 7, but the Apollo Theater — where Holiday performed many times — will honor her with a concert featuring Cassandra Wilson singing her songs on Friday, April 10; Lady Day will also be inducted into the Apollo Theater's Walk of Fame later this month. For Cruz, being able to do a similar tribute just seemed right, and although live music isn't something Union Station hosts, the space was very receptive to the idea. Cruz, who hosts the Wednesday-night Jazz Odessey show on local radio station KUVO, put in a call to the Crawford Hotel inside Union Station, and it turned out that the concierge was a fan of her show. A few more phone calls were made, and the plan to make the live event happen was in motion.
Cruz will be joined by Jen Korte, Devan Blake Jones, Dax Oliver and many more musicians and singers to perform Holiday's songs in a free concert open to all. "I really wanted to celebrate this day with a lot of different musicians," says Cruz. "Billie's music is one of those things where you may not be familiar with her whole songbook, but everyone has heard "Summertime" or "God Bless the Child." I wanted to share this with a variety of people who like Billie and are inspired by her."
The Denver singer says it was important to honor Holiday's legacy not just as a musician, but also as a figure in the story of America. "Billie resonates very much in my life, and she's part of American history. She expressed what it was like to be born a black woman in America 100 years ago; that history is American history," says Cruz. "It was a time of segregation and a time of a lot of pain; what a testament to her that she's become an artist who resonates with everyone internationally. You may not know her music, but you can hear her voice and know it's her."
The Billie Holiday Centennial Celebration goes down this Saturday, April 11, from 4 to 6 p.m. inside the Great Hall in Union Station; the gathering is free and open to the public. For more information, check out the event's Facebook page.
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