Charmin Michelle sings Billie Holiday

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When Charmin Michelle decided to pursue a career as a jazz vocalist, she was bound to pay homage to one of the greatest voices of all time.

In Billie Holiday, the mesmerizing singer whose haunting interpretations of songs from the Great American Songbook left their mark on history, Michelle found inspiration, and a musical guide.

“The first thing that drew me to her was her choice of songs and how she delivered them – the emotion that she put into them,” Michelle said. “Then I started reading about her life and how tragic it was toward the end. But she was very strong considering the time she lived in.”

On Sunday, Michelle and the Twin Cities Seven will pay tribute to the famous singer’s life in “Portrait of Billie Holiday,” at the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis. The free show, set for 2 p.m., is being presented as part of Black History Month.

The concert also will offer listeners an excellent chance to hear the artistry of Michelle, whose sweet tones and artful phrasing make her one of the Twin Cities best voices. For her, however, it’s a chance to again draw on the mastery of Holiday, who brought new life to tunes like “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Body And Soul,” and “They can’t Take That Away From Me.”

“When you think about improvisation, hers is not quite Ella Fitzgerald’s,” Michelle said, “but that’s apples and oranges. She could really emote.

“When she was young, her voice was really high and she was on top of the beat a little bit. But as she got older and the drugs took hold of her voice, she got a little gritty. But she worked with what she had.”

Michelle also is booked for a show Monday at the Dakota Jazz Club, where she will be joined on stage by guitarist Joel Shapira — a great pairing of two different instruments.

Photo by JuliAnne Jonker

  • Sandy DiNanni

    This concert is NOT at First Universalist Church. It is to be held at 2 pm today at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, 900 Mt. Curve Ave.