Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit (4.19.15)

“Strange Fruit” is a song, made famous by Billie Holiday, who would often sing it to close her shows when she would perform, discouraging applause from the audience when she sang it. Holiday had a difficult time recording the song, but upon the urging of her friends at¬†Commodore Records, she recorded it for the first time on April 20th, 1939. She was harassed by the FBI and other authorities for singing it, but refused to stop.

Originally written as a poem in 1937 by Abel Meeropol, to protest against American racism and the lynching of African Americans in the south just after the turn of the century, it remains a stark reminder of America’s scars of slavery, bigotry, discrimination, and hatred.

Holiday’s legacy is directly connected to “Strange Fruit”, and Nina Simone said of the song, that it was about the ugliest song she had ever heard, and would later marvel. “Ugly in the sense that it is violent and tears at the guts of what white people have done to my people in this country.”

In this edition of Liner Notes, Rabbi and jazz historian Neil Blumofe, talks about what the lamentation of “Strange Fruit” can teach us today, about injustice, humanity,¬† protest, and peace.