Not many actresses at the age of 28 can play a 14-year-old. A fresh-faced Diana Ross does it with ease in this opening scene. We also learn that the young Holiday, then named Eleanora, is a restless child who works as a maid in a brothel.
After quitting the brothel (where she'd switched from maid to prostitute), Holiday, now a little more mature, tries her hand at becoming a Cotton Club entertainer. Her lack of dancing experience shines through in the most comedic way — she's off-rhythm and clumsy.
Richard Pryor's character, Piano Man, provides a bit of comic relief in Lady Sings the Blues. As shown in their initial scene together, Piano Man nudges Billie to sing to Jerry, the Cotton Club owner, after her terrible dancing fails to land her the gig. Their friendship chemistry is magnetic!
Billy Dee Williams as Louis McKay is just handsome and hunky. It's his $20 bill that gives Holiday the ultimate confidence. Her career picks up from there and she becomes a hit at the club.
Right after finishing her first night at the Cotton Club, Billie receives a gardenia from Louis McKay, who's used to getting anybody he wants. Holiday, like a true lady and with a little sass, rejects the flower. But McKay comes down to seal the deal. The two then go out to enjoy a romantic night of dinner and dancing.
Diana Ross' performance landed her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1973. There are many scenes where Ross' thespian skills shine through — particularly here when Holiday realizes she can't function without drugs. As a result, she spins out of control, smearing makeup on herself and the mirror reflecting her now-deteriorating image.
The film is flooded with memorable music. "Good Morning Heartache" was the one song that stuck out for many fans watching. Ross' sweet and tender vocals are juxtaposed with the harsh realities of her character's heartbreak.
There's no greater sense of support than a loving family. Holiday's longtime friends and loved ones surprise her with a welcome-home party after her long stint in rehab. Overwhelmed with emotion, a teary-eyed Holiday thanks them for the support, and the party begins around the piano.
The beach scene with Piano Man and Holiday is epic for more than just the acting. The fashion simply steals the show here: the patterned turban, flashy earrings, decadent fur and camel-colored jumper are simply beautiful and fit for a diva. It's unfortunate that this scene packed with beauty signifies Holiday's downturn and return to drugs.