Who is Andra Day? The first black Best Actress winner at the Golden Globes in 35 years

'The United States vs Billie Holiday' star isn't just a talent on screen – she first carved out a career as a singer

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Andra Day in "The United States vs Billie Holiday." Day accepted the award best actress in a motion picture drama at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (Takashi Seida/Paramount Pictures via AP)

It was a category that included some formidable names, such as Viola Davis, Frances McDormand and Carey Mulligan, each multi-award winners in their own right.

However, at this year's Golden Globe Awards, it was a first-time nominee who scooped Best Actress in a Drama, becoming only the second black performer to do so.

Andra Day took home the trophy at Sunday night's ceremony, becoming the second black actress to win the category at the Golden Globes, following Whoopi Goldberg's triumph for The Colour Purple in 1986.

The American actress, 36, portrays the namesake jazz star in The United States vs Billie Holiday, a biopic directed by Lee Daniels.

McDormand had been sweeping film awards with her performance in Nomadland, but now Day looks like a likely contender to go up against her when the Academy Awards nominations are revealed on Monday, March 15.

Who is Andra Day?

If you're not familiar with her work on screen, that's not surprising, as The United States vs Billie Holiday actually marks Day's acting debut.

The San Diego star, born Cassandra Monique Batie, had carved out a career as a talented singer-songwriter, releasing her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, in 2015.

The album, which includes hit single Rise Up, was nominated for Best R&B Album at the 2016 Grammy Awards.

Day was first discovered by Kai Millard, then Stevie Wonder's wife, in 2010 after she noticed the singer performing at a mall. After telling her husband about the talented singer, Wonder put Day in contact with producer Adrian Gurvitz, the star told Newsday in 2016.

However, it was Day's YouTube channel which caused her star to rise, with her mash-up and cover recordings eventually netting her a deal with Warner Bros Records, now Warner Records.

The singer gained thousands of followers by fusing tracks, such as Amy Winehouse's He Can Only Hold Her and Lauryn Hill's Doo-Wop.

After her debut album was released, Day starred alongside mentor Wonder in an Apple TV advert, with the pair singing Someday At Christmas.

The Superstition star isn't Day's only A-list fan, either. The singer also won over director Spike Lee during a performance at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, with the filmmaker volunteering to direct the video for her first single, Forever Mine.

While she is yet to release a second album, Day appeared on the track Stand Up for Something with rapper Common, which was recorded for the 2017 legal drama film Marshall. The single was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, with the pair performing at the 2018 Oscars.

What did she win her Golden Globe for?

Day's jazz-infused vocals landed her the lead role in biographical drama The United States vs Billie Holiday. 

The film, released on Hulu in the US this year, also stars Natasha Lyonne and Garrett Hedlund.

It follows the story of the jazz legend as she is targeted by the US government during its war on drugs in the 1940s, with the singer subjected to years of surveillance thanks to her history of addiction and her powerful song, Strange Fruit.

The government feared the track, which focuses on the lynching of black Americans in the South in the 20th century, would lead to widespread violence and unrest.

Daniels admits he was reluctant to cast Day in the role, because of her lack of acting experience, though he was won over after meeting the singer.

"She was enchanting and she did embody the spirit of Billie," the filmmaker told The Hollywood Reporter in January. "I sent her to an acting coach because she had not acted before. And the acting coach, on the fly, turned her iPhone on and showed me her prepping and getting into character. Just from that 30 seconds of video footage, I saw Billie Holiday without question. The game was up. There was no acting. There was just being."

Day was also nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, for Tigress & Tweed which she recorded for the film. However, she was pipped to the post by Io Si (Seen) from The Life Ahead.

The star was among several winners who made history during this year's ceremony, including director Chloe Zhao, who became only the second woman and first Asian woman to win the Best Director award.

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