|Single by Billie Holiday|
|A-side||Fine and Mellow|
|Recorded||April 20, 1939|
"Strange Fruit" is a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, who first sang and recorded it in 1939. Written by teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem and published in 1937, it protested American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Such lynchings had reached a peak in the South at the turn of the century, but continued there and in other regions of the United States. Meeropol set it to music and, with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, performed it as a protest song in New York venues in the late 1930s, including Madison Square Garden.
The song continues to be covered by numerous artists, as well as inspiring novels, other poems and other creative works. In 1978, Holiday's version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Poem and song
"Strange Fruit" originated as a poem written by American writer, teacher and songwriter Abel Meeropol under his pseudonym Lewis Allan, as a protest against lynchings. In the poem, Meeropol expressed his horror at lynchings, inspired by Lawrence Beitler's photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. He published the poem under the title "Bitter Fruit" in 1937 in The New York Teacher, a union magazine. Though Meeropol had asked others (notably Earl Robinson) to set his poems to music, he set "Strange Fruit" to music himself. His protest song gained a certain success in and around New York. Meeropol, his wife, and black vocalist Laura Duncan performed it at Madison Square Garden.
The lyrics are under copyright but have been republished in full in an academic journal, with permission. (They are similar to the text of Théodore de Banville's poem "Le Verger du Roi Louis", which was written 70 years before.)
Billie Holiday's performances and recordings
Barney Josephson, the founder of Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, New York's first integrated nightclub, heard the song and introduced it to Billie Holiday. Other reports say that Robert Gordon, who was directing Billie Holiday's show at Cafe Society, heard the song at Madison Square Garden and introduced it to her. Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939. She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation but, because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing the piece, making it a regular part of her live performances. Because of the power of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday's face; and there would be no encore. During the musical introduction, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer.
Holiday approached her recording label, Columbia, about the song, but the company feared reaction by record retailers in the South, as well as negative reaction from affiliates of its co-owned radio network, CBS. When Holiday's producer John Hammond also refused to record it, she turned to her friend Milt Gabler, whose Commodore label produced alternative jazz. Holiday sang "Strange Fruit" for him a cappella, and moved him to tears. Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record it; Frankie Newton's eight-piece Cafe Society Band was used for the session. Because Gabler was worried the song was too short, he asked pianist Sonny White to improvise an introduction; on the recording, Holiday starts singing after 70 seconds. Gabler worked out a special arrangement with Vocalion Records to record and distribute the song.
Holiday recorded two major sessions of the song at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. The song was highly regarded; the 1939 record sold a million copies, in time becoming Holiday's biggest-selling record.
In her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday suggested that she, together with Meeropol, her accompanist Sonny White, and arranger Danny Mendelsohn, set the poem to music. The writers David Margolick and Hilton Als dismissed that claim in their work Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song, writing that hers was "an account that may set a record for most misinformation per column inch". When challenged, Holiday—whose autobiography had been ghostwritten by William Dufty —claimed, "I ain't never read that book."
- 1999, Time magazine called it the song of the century.
- 2002, the Library of Congress honored the song as one of 50 recordings chosen that year to be added to the National Recording Registry.
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution listed the song as Number One on "100 Songs of the South".
- Serbian rock musician, journalist and writer Dejan Cukić wrote about "Strange Fruit" as among 45 songs that changed the history of popular music in his book 45 obrtaja: Priče o pesmama.
- In 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs”.
In popular culture
- The 1944 novel Strange Fruit by author Lillian Smith was said to have been inspired by Holiday's version of the song.
- The opera Strange Fruit (2007) was adapted from the novel by Lillian Smith (above). A commissioned work, it premiered on June 15, 2007, at the Long Leaf Opera Festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, starring Charles Stanton, baritone, and Erina Newkirk, soprano. Chandler Carter was the composer and Joan Ross Sorkin was the librettist.
- Bob Dylan cited "Strange Fruit" as an influence in the 2005 documentary No Direction Home.
- Rapper Danny! recorded "Strange Fruit," a song about his encounter with a racist hotel manager, who prevented him and his friends from checking into a reserved room after discovering they were black.
- Katey Sagal with The Forest Rangers and Blake Mills covered the song. Their version was used in the 2011 Sons of Anarchy TV series episode, "Fruit for the Crows," in which a club member tries to hang himself.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2013)|
- The song is included on the album Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics (1962)
- Lou Rawls on his albums Black and Blue (1963) and Tobacco Road (1964).
- Nina Simone's album Pastel Blues (1965) included her version of the song.
- Diana Ross covers this song on both the soundtrack of her film Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and on her live album Stolen Moments (1992).
- Reggae group UB40 covered the song on their 1980 album Signing Off.
- Robert Wyatt sings it on his album of compilations, Nothing Can Stop Us (1982).
- The Gun Club on the live bonus edition of their Death Party EP (1983).
- Sting and Gil Evans performed the song together; it is included on the live album Last Session (1987).
- Siouxsie and the Banshees performed a cover of "Strange Fruit" for their album Through the Looking Glass (1987).
- Tori Amos recorded it as a B-side to her 1994 single "Cornflake Girl".
- Bassist Marcus Miller performed the song live on his album Live & More. He also included a cover of the song for his 1995 studio album Tales
- Cassandra Wilson covered it on her album New Moon Daughter (1995).
- British musician John Martyn included it on his album The Church with One Bell (1998).
2000 and after
- Elkie Brooks covers this song on her 2001 album Shangri-La
- Karan Casey covered it on her album The Winds Begin To Sing (2001).
- Diane Izzo and John Rice with the Pine Valley Cosmonauts included a version on The Executioner's Last Songs, Vols II & III, 2003
- The Twilight Singers included it in their 2004 covers album She Loves You.
- In 2007, Mojo magazine selected Siouxsie and the Banshees's version from their Through the Looking Glass album, for a CD called Music Is Love: 15 Tracks That Changed The World Recovered By....
- Cocteau Twins sang it as a BBC session recording.
- Folk Punk ensemble This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb covers the song in their 2008 album convertible.
- Jeff Buckley sang a live version on his album Live at Sin-é (Legacy edition) (2003).
- Karate covers this song in their EP In the Fishtank 12 (2005).
- Snowman covered the song for Triple J's Like a Version segment. The song appeared on the fourth Like a Version compilation CD (2008).
- Flowers Forever (Derek Pressnall of Tilly & the Wall) covers the song on the band's self-titled debut (2008).
- A karaoke version of "Strange Fruit" appears on Karaoke Union Songs (2007). The vocal version on this album is by Jackie Richardson.
- Dee Dee Bridgewater performed a cover of "Strange Fruit" for her album Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee Bridgewater (2009).
- AaRON covered the song on their album Artificial Animals Riding On Neverland in 2007.
- René Marie, jazz artist, combined the song with "Dixie" on her 2004 album Vertigo.
- Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa covered the song on their album Seesaw (2013).
- Nona Hendryx covers the song on her album Mutatis Mutandis (2012).
- India.Arie covers the song on the deluxe edition of her album Songversation (2013).
- Kanye West uses a sample of Nina Simone's version of the song in his song "Blood on the Leaves" on his Yeezus album (2013).
- Claire Johnston, from the South African group Mango Groove, sang a version on her album Africa Blue (2006).
- Annie Lennox covers the song on her late (2014) album Nostalgia.
- Katey Sagal covers the song on the TV show Sons of Anarchy and was released on the soundtrack album Songs of Anarchy: Music from Sons of Anarchy Seasons 1-4 (2011)
- Clarke, Donald: Billie Holiday. Wishing on the Moon. München: Piper, 1995. ISBN 3-492-03756-9
- Davis, Angela: Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. Diverse Ausgaben, z. B. Vintage Books, 1999. ISBN 0-679-77126-3
- Margolick, David and Hilton Als: Strange Fruit. Billie Holiday, Café Society and an Early Cry for Civil Rights. Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-0677-1 (hardcover, 2000)
- Margolick, David, and Hilton Als: Strange Fruit. The Biography of a Song, Ecco. ISBN 0-06-095956-8 (paperback, 2001)
- Holiday, Billie (with William Dufty): Lady Sings the Blues (autobiography), Edition Nautilus, 1992. ISBN 3-89401-110-6
- "Billie Holiday recording sessions". Billieholidaysongs.com. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
- "Lynching Statistics for 1882-1968". Chesnuttarchive.org. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- "War and Social Upheaval: the American Civil Rights Movement - lynching". Histclo.com. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- [dead link]
- "Strange Fruit: Anniversary Of A Lynching". NPR. August 6, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- David Margolick, Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2000), pp. 25–27.
- Moore, Edwin (September 18, 2010). "Strange Fruit is still a song for today | Index Strange Fruit is still a song for today". The Guardian. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
- Lynskey, Dorian (2011). "33 Revolutions Per Minute". London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-24134-4.
- Margolick, Strange Fruit, pp. 36–37.
- Meeropol, Abel (12 July 2006). "Strange fruit". International Journal of Epidemiology 35 (4): 902–902. doi:10.1093/ije/dyl173. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
- Margolick, Strange Fruit, pp. 40–46.
- Margolick, Strange Fruit, pp. 61-62.
- Billy Chrystal, 700 Sundays, pp. 46–47.
- Margolick, Strange Fruit, pp. 31-32.
- Lynskey, Dorian (February 15, 2011). "Strange Fruit: the first great protest song". The Guardian.
- Billy Chrystal, 700 Sundays, p. 47.
- "100 Songs of the South | accessAtlanta.com". Alt.coxnewsweb.com. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
- Smith, Ian K (March 25, 2010). "Top 20 Political Songs: Strange Fruit". New Statesman. Retrieved March 25, 2010.
- Erin Z. Bass, "The Strange Life of Strange Fruit", Deep South Magazine, December 12, 2012.
- "Home, Season, News". Longleafopera.org. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
- "Sons of Anarchy (TV Series) : Fruit for the Crows (2011) : Soundtracks". IMDb.com. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
- "Singles: Under the Pink. Cornflake girl". Hereinmyhead.com. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
- "Live & More overview". Allmusic.com.
- "Marcus Miller - Tales (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- [dead link]
- "Karaoke Union Songs - Union Pride". Unionpride.ca. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
- "Claire Johnston - Africa Blue (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
- "Strange Fruit", Independent Lens, PBS
- Strange Fruit, Newsreel documentary
- "Strange Fruit", Shmoop, analysis of lyrics, historical and literary allusions - student & teaching guide
- Full lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
- "Strange Fruit" at MusicBrainz (information & list of recordings)
- BBC Radio 4 - Soul Music, Series 17, Strange Fruit
- "Strange Fruit: A protest song with enduring relevance"