Lady Sings the Blues

Subscribe to Diana Ross alerts

Facts and Figures

Run time: 144 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 12th October 1972

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Reviews 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Producer: , , James S. White

Starring: Diana Ross as Billie Holiday, Billy Dee Williams as Louis McKay, Richard Pryor as Piano Man, James T. Callahan as Reg Hanley (as James Callahan), Paul Hampton as Harry, Sid Melton as Jerry, Virginia Capers as Mama Holiday, Yvonne Fair as Yvonne, Isabel Sanford as The Madame

Lady Sings the Blues Movie Review

Billie Holiday experts have lots of quibbles with Lady Sings the Blues, but this melodramatic biopic has plenty of emotional payoffs, even if they're slightly obscured by the triumph-and-tragedy clichés of the heavily fictionalized screenplay.

Credit Miss Diana Ross for her guts. In this, her first screen performance, she tosses all vanity aside, kicking things off by wearing a straitjacket and writhing around on the floor of an asylum (that writhing earned her an Oscar nomination). What has brought Billie Holiday to this lowly state? The flashbacks will tell us.

We next see Ross as a teenage Billie, a rape victim who's been tossed out of her Baltimore home and forced to take a job as a maid -- and a working girl -- in a Harlem brothel. It's there that she meets the in-house Piano Man (Richard Pryor), who encourages her to sing her way to success. That she does, but it's not an easy road. She racks up three marriages, although the only one depicted in the film is to gambler Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams), and eventually heads off on a tour of the South with a white band. This being the '40s, she finds herself the victim of terrible racism, and drink and drugs are her ticket to a sort of inner peace.

Surrounded by people who seem to want to help her, Billie only gets worse as the years pass, and it's not until she finds herself in the straitjacket that she realizes it's time to find a path to redemption... if it's not too late.

Of course, music plays a major role throughout the film, and Ross sings many Billie Holiday classics along the way. She doesn't dare to try to impersonate her. Instead, we get the typically nasal Ross delivery but with much more gravitas than she musters in the typical Motown pop hit. Ross and director Sidney J. Furie seem to feel that the slower the song, the more serious the mood, so at times the film seems to be grinding almost to a halt. Ross doesn't look anything like Holiday either (she's far too pretty), but she leaps over these hurdles with a measure of grace and talent that she has never again shown on screen.

Billy Dee Williams is equally good, transforming from smooth-talking ladies' man into a caring if somewhat overwhelmed husband. As for Pryor, it's a shame he didn't take or couldn't find other serious roles. The guy could act, and Piano Man's own tragic arc is painful to witness.

Many people who crossed Billie's path over the years -- Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and more -- don't show up in Lady Sings the Blues. Historians don't like that, but this isn't history. It's a tragic love story that follows the rise and fall and rise and fall of forceful personalities who lived tough lives that in the end didn't last all that long. The movie ends on an up note, but Billie Holiday was dead by 44.

The DVD includes a commentary by Furie, Barry Gordy, and Shelly Berger, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and deleted scenes.


Subscribe to Diana Ross alerts


Lady Sings the Blues Rating

" OK "


More Diana Ross

Entourage Trailer

After making a name for themselves in Hollywood, Vincent Chase and his entourage of friends from Queens have finally made a movie. The only problem...

Bastille - Things We Lost In The Fire [Live] Video

Live on the Honda Stage at Music Midtown in Atlanta, Bastille perform 'Things We Lost In The Fire', the final single from their debut album...

Bastille - Oblivion [Live] Video

Bastille perform their single 'Oblivion' live on the Honda Stage at Music Midtown in Atlanta. The track followed Platinum hit 'Of The Night' and featured...

HAERTS - Interview Video

Brooklyn band Haerts released their self-titled debut album this year, and here they talk about how they first got into music, their lifelong friendship and...


Mark Ronson - Daffodils ft. Kevin Parker [Audio] Video

Mark Ronson will finally unveil his fourth album 'Uptown Special' on January 26th 2015 through his new label deal with Sony Music. He has teamed...

Meghan Trainor - Lips Are Movin [Live] Video

Meghan Trainor performs her latest single 'Lips Are Movin' at one of her favourite places in the world: an aquarium. The song features, alongside smash...

HAERTS - Be The One [Live] Video

Haerts perform an intimate live rendition of their song 'Be The One', taken from their self-titled debut album released in October 2014 through Columbia Records....

ScHoolboy Q - Hell Of A Night Video

ScHoolboy Q released his first number one with third album 'Oxymoron', and he now unveils the video to its latest single 'Hell Of A Night'...