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Strange Fruit

Black History Month

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Black History Month - Strange Fruit - The Power of Jazz

‘Strange Fruit’ was first written as a poem by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher in Bronx, NY, and first published in 1936 in the The New York Teacher. Abel put the poem to music himself and it first gained success as a protest song in New York area when his wife, black singer Laura Duncan, performed it at Madison Square Garden. Barney Josephson founded the first integrated nightclub in New York, and introduced the song to Billie Holiday in 1939 there at Café Society. The song immediately became part of Holiday’s nightly set list as she said the imagery in the song reminded her of her father.

Billie asked her record company at the time, Columbia, if she could record the song on her next album. Columbia and their co-owned radio station, CBS, refused out of fear of backlash. Columbia did allow Holiday a one session release from her contract to record the song with the label Commodore. The song was recorded in 1939 and 1944 and not before long ‘Strange Fruit’ became Billie’s best selling record. Holiday would end all her shows with the song and one of her accompanists, Bobby Tucker, said she would break down every time after singing it. In 1999, Time Magazine named ‘Strange Fruit’ the song of the century, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978 and in the list Songs of the Century put together by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
Blood at the root
Black bodies 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
The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a 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

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