Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” has been a well-known protest song since the 1930s. It’s still a topic of conversation today. It was originally composed in 1937 as a poem by Abel Meeropol. This essay will analyze the background to the lyrics and how they relate to events taking place in American society. This essay will also examine the reasons Billie wrote Strange Fruit to raise awareness about race’s true dark side.
Abel Meeropol is a Jewish schoolteacher who was also a Communist Party member. It was written as a protest against racism, and the lynchings of African Americans. He was inspired to write ‘Strange Fruit’ by a photograph of Thomas Shipp & Abram Smith that shows them being lynched and hanging on trees. Meeropol had proposed ‘Strange Fruit’ for Barney Josephson. Josephson asked if Billie Holiday would be interested in the song. Meeropol said Billie had previously performed the song at Cafe Society Harlem. “This was exactly how I wanted the song and why I wrote.” Holiday had played the song at Cafe Society, Harlem. Meeropol commented that Holiday’s performance of Strange Fruit was a tribute to her father. Holiday also performed the song. “Southern forests bear a strange berry, Blood at the roots, black bodies swinging on the Southern breeze,” these dark lyrics refer to black bodies hanging from trees covered in blood. The lyrics do not mention Lynching but it is obvious that they describe the scene Meeropol saw with Smith and Shipp hanging on trees. Holiday is also important. She had been called a nigger by a naval officer and she had retaliated, smashing a beer glass and threatening to stab her with a sharp knife. She can use Strange Fruit to express her feelings and touch the audience. This is a sign that racism got to her emotionally. Her father was refused treatment at a white-only hospital and she received racist comments. Holiday was given some guidelines by Barney Josephson. Holiday must perform Strange Fruit in the final set. Waiters must stop serving her during the song. Holiday must also close all sets with it. “People had be reminded of Strange Fruit, and have their insides burned by the song,” Barney Josephson stated. This was to make sure that the listener felt uncomfortable, as it implied racism against black people. Strange Fruit is still a favorite of many artists, including Nina Simone, who called it the “ugliest song” she had ever heard. It was brutal and made her cry for the white people who have wronged her people. Kanye West used Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit song for Blood on the leaves. Culturally, ‘Strange Fruit was a huge hit. Campaigners for anti-lynching laws had sent copies to Congressman. Samuel Grafton, a New York Post journalist, described Strange Fruit as a magnificent work of art. Campaigners used ‘Strange Fruit to attack the Government. This gives them an eerie and dark look at lynching. Sylvia said, “It’s such a sad tune,’ adding that it was a metaphor about my uncle and the many grandfathers, brothers, fathers, and uncles who were lynched across America.” This is a sign that people can relate and understand the song. However, Strange Fruit was not popular in many places, especially outside of New York. People who have been victims or witnessed lynchings may find the lyrics to be a trigger for their memories. “Its subject was too difficult and controversial.”
Jerry Wexler, the producer of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, also had opinions about the song. He stated that the lyrics were good but the song didn’t interest his as a song. The song had too many political agendas and people adopted it because it was political. Evelyn Cunningham expressed a similar opinion. She claimed that a lot of black people will hear about lynchings. Cunningham’s opinion, while based on musical taste and perception, is true. But it tells us the truth. Cunninghams opinions are accurate. Cunninghams views reflect the pain that many black people have gone through.
Billie Holiday had a tremendous impact on popular culture. Many Americans felt the same way she did. It still has an impact on many people today. As racism is inevitable, she didn’t stop it. People have opinions on race and others will not disagree. Another reason for the current racism is that many people grew up in a culture that was rife with racism. While lynchings may be less common these days, police brutality continues to be practiced.
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