One of the great misconceptions of the arts is that an artist has to have a "tortured soul" to produce great work. If they haven't experienced suffering and hardship there's no point in listening to what they record, reading what they write, or looking at what they paint. The thing is that most artists could have done without the agony, thank you very much.
You see it's not the artist's suffering that produces the great art. It's their sensitivity to the world around them that allows them to produce great art, which also causes their suffering. They feel too much in a society where to feel is to be shunned, end up being taken advantage of, and live a life of quiet desperation looking for some sort of relief.
There can come a point when the "artistic suffering" actually becomes a detriment to their work. The booze or the drugs they use to offer them relief from a world they are too vulnerable to live in takes its toll on their abilities to produce, perform, and present their art.
"Billie Holiday…her life was terrifying sequence of tragedies, but by the mysterious processes of artistic creation, her sufferings enabled her to communicate intense feelings to her listeners. It is not squeamishness to prefer hearing Billie when she was able to give an insight into the whole range of human emotions, rather than listen to those recordings which present the sounds of a sick woman in despair." John Chilton, Billie's Blues, Quartet Books.
Billie Holiday was born April 7th 1915 and died July 17th 1959. Early details of her life are confusing, but according to her she was the child of a 13-year-old mother and 15-year-old father who weren't married until she was three years old.
She recorded her first song in 1933 at the age of 18, "My Mother's Son In-Law," and by 1934 had secured her success as a singer through a masterful performance at Harlem's Apollo Theatre. As a black performer she was subject to dealing with colour laws of the time, which meant that when performing for white audiences, she was sequestered in a room by herself to spare the audience her presence except when on stage.
Drugs, alcohol abuse, and abusive husbands dotted her life, and her career was interrupted by an eight-month stint in jail for possession of narcotics. This jail sentence caused her New York City Cabaret Card to be revoked, which meant that for the last 12 years of her life she was prohibited from performing in the clubs of that city.