The Day Lady Died
by Frank O'Hara
Holiday was an African-American jazz singer, and one of the most acclaimed singers of the 20th century. Her nickname, "Lady Day," is meant to suggest that she is jazz royalty. "The Day Lady Died" elegizes Billie Holiday without ever mentioning her by name. We catch only small glimpses of her, and of the effect of her death on the speaker. Paradoxically, by hiding her death behind a blizzard of names and places, we notice the yawning gap in the poem created the absence of the figure mentioned in the title.
- Title: An allusion to Billie Holiday's nickname "Lady Day."
- Line 25: "Her face" is an oblique reference to Holiday, but the speaker is unwilling or unable to say her name. He sounds more casual than we would expect, as if the poem were trying to keep her death from us.
- Lines 28-29: The poem ends on the powerful image of Holiday standing next to a piano and "whispering" along the keyboard to pianist Mal Waldron.