Andra Day’s breakout acting role was playing the legendary jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday in the Hulu film The United States vs. Billie Holiday. The 36-year-old’s powerful performance (and vocals) have earned rave reviews since the film’s release. The actress and singer extraordinaire is now nominated for Best Actress at the 2021 Oscars.
This may be Andra’s first Oscar nomination, but she’s no stranger to awards shows. She’s now a Golden Globe winner, and her music has been nominated for several awards. HollywoodLife has rounded up 5 key things you need to know about Andra.
1. ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ is her feature film debut.
Andra’s acting debut as Billie Holiday almost didn’t happen. When she met with the film’s director, Lee Daniels, they both initially didn’t think she was right for the role. “He’s like, ‘I don’t want to work with her, she’s not an actress,’” Andra told Deadline. “And I had a horrible idea that I would be a stain on her legacy. So, I was trying to convince him, like, ‘I’m so glad to meet you, but make sure you just get the right person and do what you need to do.’” Eventually, Andra won him over, and the rest is history. Andra’s feature film debut earned her the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.
2. She is an established singer.
Andra released her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, in 2015. The album was nominated for Best R&B Album in 2015, and her song “Rise Up” was nominated for Best R&B Performance. She earned a third Grammy nomination for the song “Stand Up for Something” in 2018. The official music video for “Rise Up” has over 86 million views on YouTube.
3. Stevie Wonder helped launch Andra’s career.
In 2010, Kai Millard Morris, who was married to Stevie Wonder at the time, saw a video of Andra performing at a California strip mall. After learning about the video, Stevie called Andra himself. “I was living in a tiny little studio apartment with my mom. I didn’t believe it,” Andra told Live Nation about the day Stevie called. Stevie helped connect Andra to a producer, and that’s when her career took off.
4. Andra’s stage name is an homage to Billie Holiday.
Andra was born Cassandra Monique Batie. She was eventually inspired to pay tribute to Billie Holiday with her stage name, according to Deadline. Day comes from Billie Holiday’s nickname, Lady Day. Andra was introduced to Billie’s music at a young age, and “Strange Fruit” had an impact on Andra. “All I knew was that whatever I was listening to was extremely powerful and I could hear the sacrifice,” she told Deadline. “I was like, ‘Wow, she’s giving up something.’ It wasn’t until I was about 18 when I started to dive into who she is.”
5. She was a part of Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Andra performed her hit song “Rise Up” during President Joe Biden’s inauguration at his virtual inaugural parade. Months earlier, she sang a duet of “Greatest Love of All” with John Legend at Joe’s “Celebration for Change” live streaming fundraiser. She also sang “Rise Up” at the White House in 2016 during a rally for Hillary Clinton.