In April 1957, photographer Jerry Dantzic had an assignment from Decca Records to photograph Billie Holiday during a weeklong run of performances at the Newark, New Jersey, nightclub, Sugar Hill. What unfolded was an unexpected and intimate journey into her private and public worlds. His photos comprise the largest collection of images from any single Billie Holiday club engagement. “Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill: Photographs by Jerry Dantzic” presents 56 remarkable images of the jazz icon that challenge the tragic narrative that frequently defines her. The exhibition will be on view at The Durham Museum December 4, 2021 – February 27, 2022.
Developed collaboratively by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Jerry Dantzic Archives, the exhibition shows the elegance, complexity, star power and humanity of the consummate jazz artist. Dantzic’s discreet, respectful and artful approach, using only available light, helped forge a bond of trust between him and Holiday. The result is a series of striking images that presents her, not only on stage but also among her closest friends and family, projecting warmth, humor and tenderness. The photographer’s unparalleled access also captures Holiday encountering fans, strolling Broad Street in Newark, backstage and performing. Dantzic, an artist in his own right, masterfully captures these moments. The photographs document a significant period in Holiday’s life, just two years before her death at the age of 44.
The exhibition also includes Dantzic’s ephemera from his assignment photographing Billie Holiday’s engagement at Sugar Hill in Newark and at the 2nd New York Jazz Festival on Randall’s Island, both in 1957. Some of the objects to be on display include his Leica M3 camera, a photograph of him while holding the camera and his business card from late 1950s.
In conjunction with the exhibition, The Durham will also present A Territory of Sound: African American Jazz Orchestras in Early 20th Century Omaha. Omaha served as an important steppingstone in the careers of many jazz musicians in the early half of the 20th century. Local acts, like Nat Towles’ Orchestra, toured around the Midwest while major acts like Duke Ellington and Count Basie came to town to play and often left with new backing musicians hired straight from local orchestras. This exhibit showcases a few of those stories with a focus on the impact of musicians in territory bands and their roles in supporting the growth of jazz in Omaha and throughout the country.
SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 65 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. For exhibition descriptions and tour schedules, visit sites.si.edu.