“A Birthday Tribute to Billie Holiday” is being performed Wednesday (4/25) at L.A.’s Catalina Bar & Grill nightclub in honor of what would have been the immortal jazz legend’s 97th — by her one-time pianist, Corky Hale Stoller.
It seems impossible that Stoller could have played for the star-crossed “Lady Day,” who died in 1959, but the energetic musician started her career as a teen. She won over Holiday, who started calling her “my little girl” and they performed together in Hollywood and Las Vegas. “In those days, Las Vegas was so glamorous. Everyone dressed up to see a show,” Hale recalls. “Now people go to see shows dressed in sweatsuits.”
Holiday invited her on a tour of the Philippines, too, but “at that time she was married to husband number four, Charlie McKay, and I was scared to death of him,” Stoller says of Holiday’s abusive spouse.
Stoller also played for Liberace — as a harpist, and with white blond hair to look grand for the black and white cameras at his suggestion — on his television show. She was a musician at the renowned Cocoanut Grove nightclub. And she has a plethora of stories of the fascinating times and personalities she’s known. Small wonder a biography of Hale is in the works.
Today, her life is divided between music, politics — as a mover and shaker in the Democratic Party — and philanthropy. Tomorrow (4/24) will mark the grand opening of the Stoller-Filer Health Center in L.A.’s Watts/Willowbrook area, a Planned Parenthood facility under the auspices of Hale and her husband, Mike Stoller of Leiber & Stoller songwriting fame. It’s their second such health center.