Andra Day Went to Surprising Lengths to Sound Like Billie Holiday in 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday'

Andra Day won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday.' Does Andra sing in the Billie Holiday movie?

Toni Sutton - Author

Mar. 1 2021, Published 11:25 p.m. ET

Andra Day as jazz singer Billie Holiday takes the stage to give sing to a live audience.
Source: Hulu

The 2021 Golden Globes aired on Feb. 28, and Andra Day walked away with the esteemed award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama for her depiction of the influential, legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Andra’s award marks her second Golden Globe nomination and her first win. She beat out fellow nominees Viola Davis, Vanessa Kirby, Frances McDormand, and Carey Mulligan.

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"To all the incredible nominees, I'm in the presence of giants. You inspire me so much. To the amazing, transformative, dynamic Billie Holiday. She transformed me with this role, with her presence, with her spirit. Thanks to everybody who was a part of this incredible project," Andra said in her virtual acceptance speech. Andra is only the second Black actress to win a Golden Globe in that category. Whoopi Goldberg was the first in 1985 for her The Color Purple role.

On Feb. 26, The United States vs. Billie Holiday premiered on Hulu, and since then viewers have wondered if Andra really sings in the Billie Holiday biopic, as Diana Ross did in her portrayal of the iconic singer in the film Lady Sings the Blues.

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Does 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday' feature vocals by Andra Day?

As the brilliant, victimized, and ill-fated jazz singer Billie Holiday, Andra in The United States vs. Billie Holiday does it all. She rages, grieves, makes love, gets high, wavers, and sings. Every time Billie Holiday sings, it's Andra's voice that is heard. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Andra talks about how she prepared herself for the task of singing Lady Day's music.

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Andra started smoking cigarettes, just like Holiday did, and chugged “cold water and gin.” She also screamed and yelled all the time, which left no time for her vocal cords to rest to achieve her sound. She shares, "The gravel and the grit in [Billie Holiday's] voice is so much a part of her character. Anything I'd do to take care of my voice as a singer, I did the opposite."

andra day billie
Source: hulu
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She said the overall experience changed her, and added, "It's one thing to commit to such a regimen as a seasoned actor; it's another entirely if you're a Grammy-nominated artist stepping into her first acting role. There's still some residual Billie. Parts of her will always be with me."

'The United States vs. Billie Holiday' actress is an acclaimed singer.

Producer Lee Daniels needed to cast someone that can sing to play Billie Holiday — somebody with some real musical chops that could imitate her signature smoky and lingering sound. Andra was a perfect fit for the role. She was no stranger to the entertainment world, being that she was a professional singer and had been for quite some time. In 2015 she released her own debut album, "Cheers to the Fall."

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Andra has also recorded and toured with artists such as Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, and Regina Spektor. In 2016 Andra covered the Eliza Hamilton power ballad “Burn” on "The Hamilton Mixtape." Andra earned her first career Grammy nominations in 2016 for Best R&B Performance for the song "Rise Up" and Best R&B Album for "Cheers to the Fall." The singer made her debut on the Grammy stage at the 58th Grammy Awards in 2016, singing a duet with Ellie Goulding.


You can stream The United States vs. Billie Holiday on Hulu.

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