Lady Sings the Blues (1972)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Lady Sings the Blues Videos

Lady Sings the Blues Photos

Movie Info

Diana Ross plays the magnificent, tragic song stylist Billie Holiday, who while writhing in a strait jacket in a prison cell, awaiting sentencing on drug charges, reflects on her turbulent life. Raped in her youth by a drunk (Adolph Caesar), then compelled to work as a domestic in a Harlem whorehouse, Holliday is encouraged to try for a singing career by the bordello's pianist (Richard Pryor). She rises as high as it is possible to go in the white-dominated show business world of the 1930s, but can't handle the pressure and turns to narcotics. The film takes several liberties with the 44-year existence of "Lady Day." Among the Billie Holiday standards performed by Ross are "My Man," "I Cried for You," "Lover Man," "Them There Eyes," and the title song.
R (adult situations/language, violence)
Classics , Drama , Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Paramount Pictures


Diana Ross
as Billie Holiday
Billy Dee Williams
as Louis McKay
Richard Pryor
as Piano Man
James Callahan
as Reg Hanley
Sid Melton
as Jerry
Virginia Capers
as Mama Holiday
Yvonne Fair
as Yvonne
Milton Selzer
as The Doctor
Ned Glass
as The Agent
Paulene Myers
as Mrs. Edson
Isabel Sanford
as First Madame
Norman Bartold
as Detective
Clay Tanner
as The Detective #2
Jester Hairston
as The Butler
Bert Kramer
as The Policeman
Paul Micale
as The Maitre d'
Michelle Aller
as The Singer
Byron Kane
as The Announcer
Barbara Minkus
as Radio Actress
Kay Lewis
as Angela DeMarco
Helen Lewis
as Debbie McGee
George Wyner
as The M.C.
Shirley Melline
as The Policewoman
Harry Caesar
as Rapist
Toby Russ
as The Jail Guard
Larry Duran
as Hood #1
Ernie Robinson
as Hood #2
Don Charles McGovern
as Reporter #1
Dick Poston
as Reporter #2
Charles Woolf
as Reporter #3
Denise Denise
as Denise
Lynn Hamilton
as Aunt Ida
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Lady Sings the Blues

Critic Reviews for Lady Sings the Blues

All Critics (12) | Top Critics (4)

Ross conveys the vulnerability and determination of her character across a very believable arc of maturation.

January 23, 2006
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic

How is it possible for a movie that is otherwise so dreadful to contain such a singularly attractive performance in the title role?

Full Review… | May 8, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

The movie is filled with many of the great Billie Holiday songs, and Ross handles them in an interesting way. She doesn't sing in her own style, and she never tries to imitate Holiday, but she sings somehow in the manner of Holiday.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Clearly, it's an affront to Holiday's art, but just as clearly, it's a good piece of low entertainment.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Though she doesn't look or sing as Billie Holiday, Diana Rosss gives a commendable performance in this fictionalized biopic, for which she received an Oscar noimination.

Full Review… | June 30, 2011

View this film about Billie Holiday as a completely fictional story, and you'll enjoy it far more than you would otherwise.

Full Review… | October 3, 2006
TV Guide

Audience Reviews for Lady Sings the Blues

Diana Ross was an ideal candidate to breathe life into the train wreck that Billie Holiday became. The fall into the drug use is particularly horrific.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer


"Lady sings the blues, she's got them bad, she feels so sad and wants the world to know just what the blues is all about!" "And I guess that's why they call it the blues, time on my hands could be time spent with you!" Oh, whoops sorry, I accidentally slipped back into white mode there for a second, something that you probably shouldn't do when talking about this film. We're talking about a film about Billie Holiday that features one of the Supremes, Lando Calrissian and, of course, Richard Pryor, and that, alone, is enough for this film to qualify as the ultimate black pop culture fan service for the '70s. You can, of course, see the irony in the fact that this film is directed by, of all people, a white dude, and not just any white guy, but the Canadian who did the "Iron Eagle" films and "Superman IV", as well as a film titled "Wonderful Life", probably because he was hoping that you would think that he's so white that did "[u]It's a[/b] Wonderful Life". ... Yeah, I'd imagine that I just lost you when I mentioned the fact that Sidney J. Furie, after this film, did the "Iron Eagle" films and "Superman IV", but rest easy, folks, because this film is hardly that messy. Granted, this film isn't really as tight as it probably should be, either, for although this is a decent biopic, - as well it should be if it's going to get a white dude to direct a film this black - Furie can do only so much to battle back some problems, let alone conventions. There are plenty of issues with the telling of this tale, but if nothing else is wrong with this biopic, it is simply its being too formulaic for its own good, hitting familiar beat after familiar beat and losing steam, little by little, as it treks down a familiar path, blanded up by conventionalism, not at all helped by dry spells in atmosphere. Perhaps atmospheric kick to this film is more uneven than merely straightfoward slow, because its sudden shifts from reasonably entertaining to kind of limp are a tad jarring at times, yet are not quite as detrimental to engagement value as what rests on the other end of the uneven jumps from non-slow spells, for although the film is never dull, it drags its feet more often than it probably should. Sure, the film doesn't slow down so often that you'll find a whole lot of difficulty in holding onto its engagement value, but it limps out just often enough to shake your investment, or at least draw your attention more toward limp spots in actual plot structuring, which has its points of being bloated, sometimes with filler, but mostly with excess material that draws substance out into a repetitious state. Taking not even two-and-a-half hours to tell the tale of a person's rise from misfortune to stardom, and subsequent descent into a destruction of her career and life, this film stands to be more overdrawn, but it does begin to tread circles after a while of being both too padded and, as irony would have it, not padded enough. With all of my complaints about how bloated the film is in certain spots, an even bigger issue is the hurried spots, which are just slapdashed enough to thin out exposition and, by extension, serve as components to an surprising and considerable limiting of exploration of a worthy piece of subject matter. The film very rarely takes the time that it should to flesh out the late, great Billie Holiday's story, not being harsh enouh in its portrayal of her poverty as a youth, or her immensity as a star, or even her changes as a soul who falls from grace, and that gives you enough time to meditate upon the slow spells, and the hurried spells, and, of course, the genericism, which reinforces this effort as rather forgettable as just another biopic, thus making for an unfortunately underwhelming final product that really could have rewarded. Still, while the film stands to kick harder, it has just enough juice behind it to keep you going, sometimes genuinely compelled, and often reasonably entertained, partially thanks to nice musical tastes. Billie Holiday may have had one of your more interesting stories in the classic jazz music industry, and may have had quite a bit of influence on jazz styles, but her musical efforts weren't too terribly outstanding, so it's not like this film's soundtrack is all that outstanding, yet Holiday still turned in plenty of fine diddies, many of which can, of course, be found in this film, which puts Holiday's and a few other classic jazz talents' music to good use to liven up entertainment value, and join Carl Anderson's decent production designs in selling you on the era just fine. There's not a whole lot of color to this film's musical value or production value, but the strengths within this film's tastes in substance compliments are hard to deny, as surely as the value within this film's story concept is essentially downright undeniable. Holiday's story is a familiar one, and is brought to the silver screen much too messily through this film, but typical rise-and-fall stories of this type are always worthy, no matter how overexplored are may be, and sure enough, there is a worthiness to this film on paper that may not be as pronounced as it could have been, but still ignites a certain degree of immediate intrigue, sometimes brought to life by bonafide inspired moments in Sidney J. Furie's direction. Furie could have done more and really should have done more, but what he does do right helps in winning you over just fine, which isn't to say that you're ever shaken too loose from this film, as there is so much potential behind this character study. More could have been done with this material, but this is still a decent character piece, partially because the portrayals behind the characters who drive this story are typically so strong, for although there are plenty of underwritten talents in this cast, we're still looking at a fairly talented cast, from which Richard Pryor stands out as memorable, not necessarily because of his dramatic power, but because of his sparkling charisma. Pryor charms plenty, but if you want more meat in this film's acting departments, then turn to the leads, as Billy Dee Williams engages as Holiday's dashingly smooth, yet concerned lover, while leading lady Diana Ross carries the film as Holiday herself, delivering on more layers and dramatic range than the actual film does in portraying the life and times of a legendary talent. As surely as there aren't a whole lot of problems, there aren't a whole lot of strengths to this film, but like the flaws, the strengths behind this effort make up for their limited quantity with a fair bit of quality, and while the final product still underwhelms as kind of forgettable as a paint-by-the-numbers musical biopic, when the film actually occupies your time, you're not likely find your investment wasted, regardless of this promising film's shortcomings. At the end of the show, you're left with a formulaic biopic that slows down and bloats out in plenty of places, yet is too thin to explore is valuable subject matter as it could have, thus making for an underwhelming final product, but one that has just enough color to its musical and production value, worthiness to its story concept and engagement value to Richard Pryor's charming performance, Billy Dee Williams' smoothly convincing performance and Diana Ross' worthwhile lead performance to keep you going, and make "Lady Sings the Blues" a decent, if a bit too undercooked study on the life of Billie Holiday. 2.5/5 - Fair

Cameron Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer


Diana Ross should have won the Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of jazz legend Billie Holliday in a riveting performance produced by Motown legend Berry Gordy along with Suzanne DePasse and directed by Sidney J. Furie. The screen chemistry between Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams is a moment of cinematic bliss. Nominated for an impressive ten Oscars including Best Picture,Best Director and Best Actress for Diana Ross who for the first time became the second African-American actress since Dorothy Dandridge to be nominated for the Oscar. In short,an impressive array for great filmmaking with some electrifying performances for Diana Ross herself. Along with Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, Sid Melton, Adolph Caesar and Scatman Crothers,and Virginia Capers. "Lady Sings The Blues" is celebrating it's 40th Anniversary. Originally Released: October 12, 1972 Running Time: 145 minutes. MPAA Rating: R

Mister Caple
Mister Caple

Super Reviewer

Lady Sings the Blues Quotes

Discussion Forum

Discuss Lady Sings the Blues on our Movie forum!

News & Features