March 6, 2019, By Meghan Sackman
A statue of jazz great Billie Holiday will go up near Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, part of an initiative that was launched by First Lady Chirlane McCray last year that recognizes women’s contributions to history by way of public monuments.
The statue will be the first monument in Queens as part of the ‘She Built NYC’ initiative, a program that pays tribute to trailblazing women who have helped shape New York City and have not yet been recognized in the public realm.
As of now, only five of New York’s 150 statues feature women, according to the Mayor’s office. The She Built NYC initiative aims to fill that void by ensuring that half of the city’s monuments eventually depict women or items related to women’s history.
The first statue of the initiative, announced in November, will feature Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress. Her statue–the only one that had been announced prior to today– will go up at the entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
The city announced the names of four additional women today, including Holiday. All five statues are expected to be completed by 2022.
Holiday, who was born in 1915 and lived to age 44, is considered to be one of the world’s best jazz singers. She lived in Addisleigh Park in St. Albans and later in Flushing.
Born Eleanora Fagan Gough, Holiday was among the first black women to sing with a white orchestra.
She pursued a solo career, where she went on to perform ‘Strange Fruit,” a protest song about lynching that challenged racial barriers. Time Magazine dubbed it the “song of the century.”
Holiday posthumously won four Grammys and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Lady Day will always be remembered for integrating white swing bands and taking a stand against racism in America. She deserves a place in history!” said Robin Bell-Steven, Director of Jazzmobile, a nonprofit focused on art and jazz.
The three other women to be honored include: Elizabeth Jennings Graham, a civil rights activist; Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, a pediatric and public health pioneer; and Katherine Walker, one of history’s few female lighthouse keepers..
Graham’s statue will go up in Manhattan, Trias’ in the Bronx, and Walker’s in Staten Island. There is one statue now planned for each borough.
The selections were based on public feedback and an advisory panel. More than 2,000 New Yorkers went online to the women.nyc website and stated who they would like to see honored. The panel then provided recommendations to the City.
“We cannot tell the story of New York City without recognizing the invaluable contributions of the women who helped build and shape it,” McCray said. “Public monuments should tell the full history and inspire us to realize our potential – not question our worth.”
The city will continue to announce new subjects under the program as it aims to pay tribute to women of distinction.