- By Kaili Berg
Killers of the Flower Moon star and Golden Globe nominee Lily Gladstone (Blackfeet) gave an interview to Deadline last month about starring in an upcoming biopic about Native American jazz pioneer Mildred Bailey (Coeur d'Alene Tribe).
Gladstone has not disclosed whether or not she will be playing Bailey in the upcoming film but did reveal that she has been working with vocalist Stella Heath, who is well-versed in “the whole arsenal of Mildred’s history,” according to Deadline.
Further details about the project were not revealed at the time. Still, per the Deadline article, the film likely will not come out until way off in the future, as Gladstone is focused on finding a buyer for the 2023 film Fancy Dance, directed by Seneca–Cayuga director Erica Tremblay, which Gladstone starred in.
“A lot of people say Mildred Bailey was Billie Holiday before Billie Holiday was, and she sang in this very similar style,” Gladstone told Deadline.“They erased her Indigeneity while she was famous and then since she passed away, she got erased from history.”
Bailey was a popular jazz singer who rose to fame in the 1930s. She is referred to as “The Queen of Swing”, and is considered the first non-African American jazz star.
In her early life, Bailey grew up on the Coeur d’Alene reservation, where she first learned music from her mother, a pianist. Her family then moved to Spokane, Washington, where her mother died. By the time she was 17 years old, Bailey was on her own and worked as a pianist, music clerk, and singer to help support herself.
She moved to Los Angeles, where her signature light soprano drew crowds when she sang at various nightclubs around the city. Her brother, singer Al Rinker, and his friend, now famed singer Bing Crosby, followed her to LA and were subsequently hired by legendary bandleader “King of Jazz” Paul Whiteman.
She performed both solo and with her husband, Red Norvo’s group. She recorded and performed with the era’s top jazz acts in top New York City nightclubs, and in 1944, she had her own CBS radio series. Her renditions of “Georgia on My Mind” and “Rockin’ Chair” were fan favorites, and she recorded three number-one hits: “Please Be Kind,” “Save My Heart,” and “Darn that Dream.”
Health problems curtailed her activities after 1945, although she did continue to perform occasionally. Bailey died on December 12, 1951, in Poughkeepsie, New York. She was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame, and in 1994, the US Postal Service issued a 29-cent stamp in her honor.
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