Was her real name Eleanor Holiday, Eleanora Fagan Gough, or Elinore DeViese? And was she born in Baltimore, as her autobiography stated, or Philadelphia, as her birth registration indicated?

As a child, Billie Holiday shunted from relative to relative and moved frequently even when she was living with her mother. Today most of her early homes are in the same condition as her aunt's house at 432 Colvin Street in East Baltimore (left). Like many densely-populated historically poor neighborhoods near the Inner Harbor, Colvin Street has become a mix of vacant lots and small industrial buildings nearing the end of their tether.

South Durham Street (above) is one of the few specific locations mentioned in Billie Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues.

Durham (say "Der-ham" if you ask directions) is a single lane alley that stretches for miles across East Baltimore. Its northern extension has many "ghost blocks" of boarded-up identical brick two story rowhouses, but its southern end is tidy and well-kept. In classic blue collar Baltimore style, Durham Street's division between house and street is a shifting boundary. Flanked with lawn chairs, its stoops double as living rooms on warm evenings. Conversely, while walking in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon it is impossible not to hear a sobbing baby or the clatter of plates being set wafting through open windows.

Billie and her mother moved to 219 South Durham (right) in 1925. It was here, a night before Christmas, 1926, that her mother came home to find a boarder having sex with 11 year old Billie. The boarder was arrested and jailed, while Billie was removed to "The Good Shepherd Home For Colored Girls" until her mother obtained a writ of habeus corpus. Later mother and daughter moved one door down to 217 South Durham, the house with white trim and a brick stoop to the viewer's left.

Before the Permastone epidemic reached Durham Street in the 1950s, the Holiday houses probably looked like the white-painted brick house to the left of 217.

During the World War I years, Pennsylvania Avenue emerged as Baltimore's African-American entertainment midway. "The Avenue" was lined with speakeasies and small clubs, but its centerpiece was the Royal Theatre. The Royal, a stage and movie palace on the same booking circuit as New York's Apollo and Washington's Howard Theatres, stood in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania until 1970.

Just a few blocks from the Royal, Billie's mother opened a restaurant at 1325 Argyle Avenue called "The East Side Grille". Apparently it was in a "real fancy house" where, as Billie remarked in Lady Sings The Blues, "we were going to live like ladies and everything would be fine".

It was probably during her stay on Argyle Avenue that Billie ran errands at a whorehouse in exchange for hearing Louis Armstrong on the parlor victrola and first sang in neighborhood clubs. However, restaurant work was brutally hard and not very lucrative. Billie's mother soon removed to Harlem and sent for her in 1929. Although she returned to play the Royal as a star, Billie did not live in Baltimore after age 13.

Today most of the once-proud Argyle Avenue rowhouses are empty.1325 is now a vacant lot. It was likely similar to the houses on the opposite side of the street (left). Billie may once have washed the Baltimore-trademark marble stoop of the house on the left. As a young girl, she scrubbed steps all over Baltimore at 5 to 15 cents per stoop.

The Pennsylvania Avenue entertainment strip has deteriorated badly since the 1950s (below). Billie Holiday's Pennsylvania Avenue connection is commemorated by a rather grotesque larger-than-life statue between Lafayette and Lanvale Streets. low