Connected to a Song: Billie Holiday – ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’
A family connection and a melody that brought my heart to its knees.
A sweet 13-second piano melody at the beginning of the song sets up the melancholic tone for the next three minutes and 27 seconds. Each time I hear this song, my heart’s palpitations speed up as soon as those keys are pressed and soft high notes are produced.
This classic was released in 1944 and performed by none other than the Lady herself, the legendary jazz/blues singer, Billie Holiday. Although there are various artists who have put their own touch on this song, this is my all-time favorite version because of Lady’s distinctive pipes.
Similar to how a musician changes the pitch in their instrument, she fluctuates the pitch in her voice to create a contrast in her phrasing (the way she breaks up lyrics in groups of words, for example). If there is anyone who knows how to belt the blues with such emotion, it is her, without a doubt.
She brings truth to that statement in this track.
Not only is this a famous track in music history, but on a cultural scale as well. This tune was an emotional victory during the time of the second World War when loved ones were sent away into combat.
It was featured in the Broadway musical Right This Way which closed after just 15 shows. “I’ll Be Seeing You” was also the final transmittable piece of data sent by NASA to the Opportunity rover on Mars following the end of its mission on February 13th 2019.
Although her musical catalog is beyond badass, this song digs a bit deeper into my skin and holds a little more sentimental value than other tracks by Lady. My grandmother had a love for music, especially classical and jazz.
One of the first times I had ever heard Billie Holiday was around the house on an old antique radio — just my grandmother and I. She would sing the lyrics to songs to me in her broken English and tell me stories about her younger days.
Soon, I would come to learn she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The years went by and little by little her short-term memory was beginning to noticeably worsen but her ear for the music was still as good as it used to be.
This past December, my grandmother appeared to be a little more under the weather than usual. We rushed her to the hospital not knowing what was in store for us. The hospital kept watch over her for the next week or so before discharging her and sending her on her way to a rehabilitation center to sharpen up her motor skills.
The first night I visited her at the rehab center, what seemed like an endless amount of tears poured from the sky as if Mother Nature was in some kind of excruciating pain. The drive home was a somber one and having this tune stuck in my head for most of the day only amplified it. I got home and went straight upstairs to my room. Grabbing clothes from the mountain that had piled up on my desk chair from the week that just passed, I turned on my smart TV and switched on Pandora in hopes of making the space around me feel less empty.
A few seconds of silence was followed by the feathery keys making a melody that brought my heart to its knees. A part of my everyday life was slowly fading away and that realization was starting to sink heavy in my stomach.
I was cradled by Lady’s angelic voice but lost my composure at the last line she sang: “I’ll find you in the morning sun, and when the night is new, I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.”
Like a glass milk jug being dropped on concrete and milk splattering everywhere, I was the jug and my emotions were the milk. A sopping mess it was.
My grandmother passed away a few weeks later and now everything about this song reminds me of her. I find comfort in the track and the sense of longing it projects. Lady’s immaculate voice makes the saddest of songs sound so beautiful and hopeful.
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