Happy Unique Youday, Lady Day

Juliette Harris

Sarah Vaughn and Louis Armstrong. One half of photo by Joe Schwartz. Collection of Samella LewisBillie Holiday and David Howard. One half of photo by Joe Schwartz. Collection of Samella Lewis If she were living today, Billie Holiday would be a centenarian singing the reply to "How old are you?" in the "Happy Birthday to You" song in her own stone contrary way. She'd cock her head slightly to the side and use her worn, creaky, brittle voice to make artistry out of idiosyncrasy like she did 60 years ago. She was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 100 years ago, in Baltimore Maryland.

IRAAA founding editor Samella Lewis knew Joe Schwartz who snapped this photo of megawatt talent clustered at the same table: Sassy, Satchmo and Lady D with David Howard, Holiday's boyfriend of the moment.  An original print of the photograph is in Samella Lewis' collection.  She created a poster from the photo and the poster was scanned in two sections for reproduction in a 2006 issue of IRAAA (v. 21, n. 1). 

The divided photo appeared with this statement: "Lewis has known Joe Schwartz since the 1960s. He moved to Los Angeles from New York and had an offset printing shop on LeBrea Avenue.

'His parents were Jewish immigrants,' says Lewis. 'He had so many black friends that his family abandoned him.  He's 93-years old now and still dancing'." 

Samella Lewis also is quoted on the Schwartz website:

Because of his empathy with his subjects, Joe is able to take viewers into the innermost circles of their lives and he further enables them to see themselves in others. His range of subjects spans the scale from calm to dramatic, from light to dark, and from young to old. Joe Schwartz is an artist who seeks to capture the humanity within us so that we might see and appreciate the humanity in ourselves and others.”  — Samella Lewis, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Scripps College, Claremont, CA

Schwartz viewed his work as "poems I've never written" and described himself as a "folk photographer." Many of his subjects were ordinary people whose extraordinary qualities shone through his lens.

For more about Schwartz, see this article about him that was published shortly before his transition. 

In March 2013, Joe Schwartz, 99, passed away in Atascadero, California.

If human civilization persists on earth for another one hundred years (despite continuous war and other 21st century devastations hurling us closer to the end of our time), the music of Billie Holiday and the photography of Joe Schwartz will likely be among the cultural relics remaining from the 20th century.