Andra Day's voice has already earned her two Grammy nominations -- now the San Diego native is hoping to take home a pair of Golden Globes on Sunday night for Best Original Song and for Best Performance By an Actress in a Motion Picture -- Drama, for her starring role in "The United States vs. Billie Holiday."
The jazz legend has always loomed large in Day's life. In fact, Day's stage name is a reference to Holiday, who was known as Lady Day.
In "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" -- which dropped on Hulu for streaming on Friday -- the 36-year-old Day plays Holiday in the last years of her life (she was only 44 when she died) as a haunted and crushed icon, an addict with terrible choices in men but the voice of an angel. Day’s body is angular and lean and seemingly always prepared for blows to rain down, a piece of gum and a cigarette ever-present in her mouth. But she is also liable to punch back and rip into anyone crossing her. It is a remarkable performance, not least because it is Day’s first acting role.
The best parts are listening to Day as Holiday sings onstage — perfectly put together with red lipstick and a big blossom over her right ear — and watches the men in her life sit at lounge tables and determine her fate. Sometimes her gowns hid cracked ribs. “She look like a million bucks but she feels like nothing,” we are told.
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The film’s clear climax is a scene in which Holiday stumbles on a rural family after a lynching and it is searing, anguishing and horrific, images that will stay with the viewer as much as they fueled Holiday’s need to sing “Strange Fruit” despite the risks to her career. The scene is filmed like a kaleidoscope as Holiday goes from outside to inside and then seamlessly onstage to sing her signature song.
The film is bookended by reminders of America’s history of lynching. It opens with an image of a Black man murdered by a mob and, heartbreakingly, closes with a note that a bill to designate lynching as a federal hate crime has stalled in the Senate.
ONE WORLD TOGETHER AT HOME CONCERT
Day has been good to San Diego, returning occasionally to perform here -- including a Casbah show in 2015 and in 2019 at a benefit for her alma mater, the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts.
Day's face -- and voice -- may be familiar, though, to many for her appearance last spring when the singer kicked off the cultural moment that was the One World Together at Home benefit concert.
Sporting an adorable pink sweatshirt reading Sloth Hiking Team and looking beautiful as ever, she told the audience, “One of my biggest prayers during all of this, is though we're in the midst of such a terrible tragedy, that we can still gain a deeper sense of community and family instead of allowing ourselves to be divided even further apart.”
She then launched into a performance of her hit, “Rise Up” -- streamed now more than 100 million times on YouTube -- that had many people searching for the tissues, with still images from around the world flash that featured signs thanking healthcare workers played in a split-screen slideshow.
GROWING UP IN SAN DIEGO
Playing the jazz legend Holiday is the role of a lifetime for Day, who grew up in southeast San Diego, singing in church and in school.
Well before her Grammy and Golden Globe nominations, Andra -- or Cassandra, as she was known then, spent six years at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts.
"If I say 'Cassandra Batie' to anybody, people look at me like who the … is that?" Bill Doyle, who was Day's musical theatre teacher, told NBC 7. "Except for the people who know. Then they know that we were OG's back in the day."
Day credits Doyle with introducing her to Holiday.
"It was the quality she had in who she was as a performer that made me turn her on to some old standard jazzers," Doyle said. "She has a way to draw you in."
"The fact that she gives me kudos for that and this is what she’s doing now, of course that feels great," Doyle added.
Doyle, of course, is not the only one Day knew at the school who's proud of all she has accomplished.
Dana Vincent was in the school choir with Day
"I was in eighth grade when she was a senior," Vincent told NBC 7.
The two played sisters in the SCPA's 2002 production of "Gypsy."
"I always looked up to her because she was always so professional," Vincent said.
Doyle agrees with that assessment.
"She was always just who she was, And that was always more than enough," Doyle said.
Still, a couple golden statues would be nice -- "she deserves it," Doyle said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report -- Ed.