A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
In September of 1935, Paramount Pictures released a nine-minute film — Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life, an early cinematic depiction of African-American culture. It features Duke Ellington and his orchestra performing his first extended composition and stars Billie Holiday in her first filmed performance.
The one-reel movie, directed by Fred Waller, is made up of four parts: “The Laborers,” “A Triangle,” “A Hymn of Sorrow” and “Harlem Rhythm.” Holiday appears as a jilted and abused lover in “A Triangle.”
The 19 year-old Holiday sings Ellington’s “Saddest Tale,” a song selected by the composer to fit the young singer’s style. “Saddest tale on land or sea,” begin the lyrics, “Was when my man walked out on me.”
Billie Holiday’s publicity photo for “Symphony in Black”