Holiday was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1915, a Roman Catholic. She had a difficult childhood, which affected her life and career. Not much is known about her early life, but there are stories about it in her autobiography,
Lady Sings the Blues, which was published in 1956. Later, it was found out that some parts of this book were wrong.
Billie Holiday at two years old in 1917
Holiday got her pseudonym, or stage name, from
Billie Dove, an actress she admired, and
Clarence Holiday, the man who was probably her father. At the beginning of her career, she spelled her last name "Halliday", but then changed it back to "Holiday" (they are pronounced the same, 'Hahliday', in American English).
People have never been sure who Holiday's father was. This is because her birth certificate said her father was called Frank DeViese. Some people now think that this was a mistake that somebody made when she was born.
Holiday's mother was called Sadie Fagan. Fagan became pregnant when she was 13 years old. Her parents threw her out of her home in Baltimore, and she went to Philadelphia where her daughter Eleanora (Billie Holiday) was born. Fagan moved back to Baltimore and married Clarence Holiday, who was probably her baby's father, but they later divorced. When she was 10 years old, Holiday often missed school. When she said that she had been raped, she was sent to The House of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic
reform school. She was allowed out two years later, with the help of a family friend. Holiday moved to New York City with her mother in 1928. In 1929 Holiday's mother saw a neighbor, Wilbert Rich, raping Holiday. Rich was sentenced to three months in jail. But after her incident as a rape victim she was still constantly raped by drunk men in her neighborhood. She almost got pregnant by a drunk man walking down their street.