June 15, Billie Holiday and the “Strange Fruit” Song The song “Strange Fruit” was written by a Jewish communist d Abel Meeropol and had a political message shown from an entertainment angle. The song was composed during the period of 1930s after he saw a picture showing an incidence of lynching in the South while he taught at De Witt Clinton High School in Bronx. The composer a member of the Communist Party majored in compositions that touched on different topics though his compositions rarely had a sizable audience. The song was initially known as “Bitter Fruit” but later changed its name to “Strange Fruit” and addressed racism in the American society by pointing out what the white people had done to the country and offering an answer to some of the issues it raised in the society. For example, the mainly white-dominated society practiced lynching and other forms of discrimination to the black population and this was the inspiration for this song when composed by Meeropol. Meeropol contends that he wrote the song to fight racism because he hates lynching and injustice and those who perpetuate them. The song “Strange Fruit” was performed by Billie Holiday who had a troubled teen life as when she was a teenager a neighbor attempted to rape her that resulted in her being sent to a reform school run by Catholics. After release from the reform school, she left for New York where she was again jailed for involvement in the crime of solicitation to offer prostitution services. She later performed
Harlem jazz clubs and was one of the best singers and performers as shown by her command of the voice, beats and words in a song. Holiday the performer had a personality that could be described as electric, unpredictable and hedonistic but was good company to be with and smoked marijuana (Lynskey 9). First performed at a party in Harlem and later at the cafe Society, the song was met with both consternation and approval from the audiences due to the message it carried. In the performances of the “Strange Fruit” song by Holiday, there some rules that had to be followed. One rule was that all the performance sets by Holiday would close with the performance of the song and that all services by the waiters would be halted when the song was sung. More important is that the song would be performed in a dark room with a spotlight only focusing on Holiday and that there would be no encore as it was performed (Lynskey 8). Holiday later died in New York after a recording of the “Strange Fruit” for the fourth time due to illness that can be attributed to addiction to the use of heroine. The questions that the song elicited are whether a protest song can enliven politics and music or make them lesser and whether it could change the policies and people minds. It also elicited an enquiry as to whether a protest song can convey an important issue to the audience it is performed to or that it does not elicit any reaction from the audience (Lynskey 5). The song “Strange Fruit” became a hit as means of campaigns against the lynching laws and was described by enthusiasts as a fantastically perfect work of art that changed the relationships between a black entertainer and a whit audience. This song compelled the whites to understand that the racism practiced against the blacks would ultimately end in the near future. However the song has both been hailed as an art and criticized as shown by reviews by different producers and performers. For example, Jerry Wexler a producer has hailed the song for the agenda it carries in the message through politics but states that it is not interesting as a song. On the other hand, journalist Evelyn Cunningham praises the song because of the emotions it stokes by addressing the discrimination and lynching experienced by the black community at the hands of the predominantly whites (Lynskey 10). The singing and performance of the song “Strange Fruit” was met with several obstacles notwithstanding which race a person belonged to or his political thoughts. Most Americans never heard it as it was banned by most radio stations or was simply ignored due to the political and racial undertones it carried with it. The “Strange Fruit” performed by Holiday was a protest song as it depicted lynching in all of its brutality in the American society presented through the ironic language that is used in the verses. Through the song, racism in America is indicted and exposed that formed the basis for future civil rights movements in the American society. “Strange Fruit” stirred the consciousness of the American public to fight for civil rights (Levine 16) laying the basis for the enacting of laws that barred lynching in America especially in the South. Works Cited Levine, Daniel. Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2000. Print. Lynskey, Dorian. 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day. New York: Ecco, 2011. Print.