Today’s Black History Month protest/political song is “Strange Fruit.”
Who performed it: Billie Holiday, 1938; originally a protest poem written by a teacher (Abel Meeropol).
What it means: Although Holiday did not write the song, her rendition of it is the most famous. The writer condemns racism in American and the song describes the horror African American lynchings that occurred mostly in the South, but in other areas of the United States as well. Many speculate the Meeropol wrote the song after seeing a photograph of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith being lynched in Marion, Indiana in 1930.
- Southern trees bear strange fruit,
- Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
- Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
- Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
- Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
- The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
- Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
- Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
- Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
- For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
- For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,
- Here is a strange and bitter crop.
Interesting Fact: Holiday wanted to record the song but her CBS affiliated record label refused, so she recorded it on a friend’s independent, alternative Jazz label. The song eventually became Holiday’s biggest selling record and became a song she performed live regularly. However, because of the weighty lyrics and subject matter, her accompanist, Bobby Tucker, claimed that Billie would break down in tears after every time she sang the song.
Billie Holiday performing “Strange Fruit”