As a soloist, Holiday became even more well-known. In 1939, she debuted two of what would be come her signature songs. The first was “God Bless The Child,” and the second was the anti-lynching anthem, “Strange Fruit.” Despite the controversial nature of the latter song, it became a hit. Holiday’s lovelorn themes and her melancholy voice made her songs memorable.
What many didn’t know was that Holiday’s work often reflected her own troubled and destructive romances. In 1941, Holiday married James Monroe and picked up a drug habit from him coupled with her excessive drinking. The pair would go on to divorce. In 1945, in the throes of drug addiction, she lost her mother. The loss drove Holiday into a deeper depression but she remained a big star.
In 1947, a drug arrest and conviction upended her career as it prohibited her from playing in cabarets and clubs. But she could still perform in concert halls, often to sold-out audiences. With her career and voice on the decline, Holiday released the autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues in 1956 although many experts say the book had serious historical flaws.
Holiday’s hard living finally took its toll on July 17, 1959 when she died from complications due to drinking and drugs. She was just 44. The film version of Lady Sings The Blues debuted in 1972 with Diana Ross in the lead role.