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Queens of Jazz: The Joy and Pain of the Jazz Divas

Documentary celebrating some of the greatest female jazz singers of the 20th century, including what it took to be a jazz diva during a turbulent time in America's social history.

A celebration of some of the greatest female jazz singers of the 20th century. It takes an unflinching and revealing look at what it actually took to be a jazz diva during a turbulent time in America's social history - a time when battle lines were being constantly drawn around issues of race, gender and popular culture.

The documentary tracks the diva's difficult progress as she emerges from the tough, testosterone-fuelled world of the big bands of the 30s and 40s, to fill nightclubs and saloons across the US in the 50s and early 60s as a force in her own right. Looking at the lives and careers of six individual singers (Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Annie Ross), the film not only talks to those who knew and worked with these queens of jazz, but also to contemporary singers who sit on the shoulders of these trailblazing talents without having to endure the pain and hardship it took for them to make their highly individual voices heard above the prejudice of mid-century America.

This is a documentary about how these women triumphed - always at some personal cost - to become some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, women who chose singing above life itself because singing was their life.

1 hour

Last on

Sat 21 Apr 2018 00:45

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • Ella Fitzgerald

    It Ain't What You Do It's The Way That You Do It

  • Ella Fitzgerald

    Clementine

  • Sarah Vaughan & Clifford Brown

    Lullaby of Birdland

  • Billie Holiday

    Stormy Weather

  • Peggy Lee

    Fever

  • Miles Davis

    Someday My Prince Will Come

  • Lester Young & Barney Kessel

    I Can't Get Started

  • Lester Young & Harry “Sweets” Edison

    That's All

  • National Philharmonic Orchestra

    A Place In The Sun

  • Nina Simone

    Good Bait

  • Sarah Vaughan & Clifford Brown

    It's Crazy

  • National Philharmonic Orchestra

    The Philadelphia Story

  • Peggy Lee & Benny Goodman

    Let's Do It

  • Cannonball Adderley

    Love For Sale

  • Ella Fitzgerald & Chick Webb

    When I Get Low I Get High

  • Peggy Lee

    Blues In The Night

  • Mystery Story

  • Ella Fitzgerald & Chick Webb

    Vote For Mr Rhythm

  • Harold Budd & Brian Eno

    The Pearl

  • Cannonball Adderley

    Somethin' Else

  • Billy Eckstine & Sarah Vaughan

    Mean To Me

  • Glenn Miller

    American Patrol

  • Gangster Drama

  • Miles Davis

    All Blues

  • Sarah Vaughan & Dizzy Gillespie

    Lover Man

  • Peggy Lee

    He Needs Me

  • John Coltrane

    Alabama

  • Ella Fitzgerald

    Perdido

  • Nina Simone

    Good Bait

  • Nina Simone

    Why The King Of Love Is Dead

  • Pete Namlook

    Life/Death

  • Lee Morgan

    All The Way

  • Peggy Lee

    The Folks Who Live On The Hill

  • Billie Holiday

    My Man

  • Pete Namlook

    What Is Time?

  • Eric Dolphy

    Out To Lunch

  • Cecil Taylor

    I Love Paris

  • Cecil Taylor

    Get Out Of Town

  • Lester Young & Barney Kessel

    Can't Get Started

  • Peggy Lee

    Don't Smoke In Bed

  • Peggy Lee

    Woman

  • Peggy Lee

    Fever

  • Miles Davis

    Blue Is Green

  • Peggy Lee

    Hard Day's Night

  • Miles Davis

    Some Day My Prince Will Come

  • Billie Holiday & Lester Young

    Me, Myself & I

Credits

Role Contributor
Executive Producer Mark Cooper
Producer Chris Rodley
Director Chris Rodley

Broadcasts

Featured in...

Queens of Jazz playlist

Queens of Jazz playlist

Check out our BBC Music playlist - music from Nina, Ella, Billie & more.