Black History: Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”
Many may not realize, but legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday was a big part of the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, her 1939 song about lynching, “Strange Fruit,” made her a target of the FBI.
“When you think of Billie Holiday, you think of this brilliant tortured jazz singer. I didn’t know that she kicked off the Civil Rights Movement. That’s history and they keep it from us,” said Lee Daniels, who has directed an upcoming film about Holiday’s life.
Eleanora Fagan, known professionally as “Billie Holiday,” had a career which spanned 26 years. Nicknamed “Lady Day” by her friend and music partner Lester Young, Holiday had an innovative influence on jazz music and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo.
“Strange Fruit” stunned audiences and redefined music. The iconic song is a haunting protest against the inhumanity of racism. The lyrics, first written by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish schoolteacher in the Bronx – mixed with Holiday’s vocals – stirs souls.
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees”
Meeropol was a dedicated Communist and progressive thinker who was also a part-time writer and poet. Sometime in the 1930s, he came upon a photo of a lynching. That image remained in Meeropol’s mind, and first led to a poem, “Bitter Fruit,” which he wrote for a 1937 union publication. The poem was set to music and renamed “Strange Fruit” and performed on several occasions, including by singer Laura Duncan at Madison Square Garden. It then made its way to Holiday, who was performing at New York’s Café Society club. Her version haunted audiences, and the rest is history.
“Strange Fruit” protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees. Such lynchings had reached a peak in the Southern United States at the turn of the 20th century. The song has been called “a declaration of war” and “the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Holiday said that singing “Strange Fruit” 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. 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 to the song, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer.
Holiday recorded two major sessions of the song at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. The song was highly regarded; the 1939 recording eventually sold a million copies, in time becoming Holiday’s biggest-selling recording.
Holiday died on July 17, 1959 of pulmonary edema and heart failure at the age of 44.
The song, which has received critical acclaim over the decades, will continue to live on.
Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978. It was also included in the “Songs of the Century” list of the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1999, Time Magazine named “Strange Fruit” as “Best Song of the Century.”
In 2002, the Library of Congress honored the song as one of 50 recordings chosen that year to add to the National Recording Registry.
The song was included in the National Recording Registry on January 27, 2003.
In 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs.”
In 2011, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution listed the song as Number One on “100 Songs of the South.”
Daniels’ film, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” is scheduled to be released February 26 on Hulu.
October 16, 2023, HOUSTON, TX – Congressional Candidate Amanda Edwards has raised over $1 million in less than 4 months, a substantial sum that helps bolster the frontrunner status of the former At-Large Houston City Council Member in her bid for U.S. Congress. Edwards raised over $433,000 in Q3 of 2023. This strong Q3 report expands on a successful Q2 where Edwards announced just 11 days after declaring her candidacy that she had raised over $600,000. With over $829,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of the September 30th financial reporting period, Edwards proves again that she is the clear frontrunner in the race. “I am beyond grateful for the strong outpouring of support that will help me to win this race and serve the incredible people of the 18th Congressional District,” said Edwards. “We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s trajectory, and we need to send servant leaders to Congress who can deliver the results the community deserves. The strong support from our supporters will help us to cultivate an 18th Congressional District where everyone in it can thrive.” Edwards said. “Amanda understands the challenges that the hard-working folks of the 18th Congressional District face because she has never lost sight of who she is or where she comes from; she was born and raised right here in the 18th Congressional District of Houston,” said Kathryn McNiel, spokesperson for Edwards’ campaign. Edwards has been endorsed by Higher Heights PAC, Collective PAC, Krimson PAC, and the Brady PAC. She has also been supported by Beto O’Rourke, among many others. About Amanda: Amanda is a native Houstonian, attorney and former At-Large Houston City Council Member. Amanda is a graduate of Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD. Edwards earned a B.A. from Emory University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Edwards practiced law at Vinson & Elkins LLP and Bracewell LLP before entering public service. Edwards is a life-long member of St. Monica Catholic Church in Acres Homes. For more information, please visit www.edwardsforhouston.com
As September 13th rolls around, we extend our warmest birthday wishes to the creative powerhouse, Tyler Perry, a man whose indomitable spirit and groundbreaking work have left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. With his multifaceted talents as an actor, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director, Tyler Perry has not only entertained but also inspired audiences worldwide, particularly within the African-American community, where his influence and role have been nothing short of powerful. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1969, Tyler Perry’s journey to stardom was a path riddled with adversity. Raised in a turbulent household, he found refuge in writing, using it as a therapeutic outlet. This period of introspection gave rise to one of his most iconic creations, Madea, a vivacious, no-nonsense grandmother who would later become a beloved figure in Perry’s works, offering a unique blend of humor and profound life lessons. Despite facing numerous challenges, including rejection and financial struggles, Perry’s determination and unwavering belief in his abilities propelled him forward. In 1992, he staged his first play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” which, although met with limited success, was a pivotal moment in his career. Unfazed by initial setbacks, Perry continued to hone his craft, and by 1998, he had successfully produced a string of stage plays that showcased his storytelling prowess.
Calling all teenage student-athletes! If you have dreams of playing college soccer and wish to represent an HBCU, the HBCU ID Camp is your golden opportunity. From 8 am to 5 pm on November 11-12, Houston Sports Park will transform into a hub for aspiring male and female soccer players. Coaches from HBCUs across the nation will be present to evaluate, scout, and offer valuable feedback. Moreover, they might even spot the next soccer prodigy to join their collegiate soccer programs. This camp is not just about honing your soccer skills but also a chance to connect with the HBCU soccer community. You’ll learn the ins and outs of what it takes to excel on the field and in the classroom, which is crucial for a college athlete. The HBCU ID Camp is an excellent platform to network with coaches, learn from experienced athletes, and take the first steps toward your college soccer journey. To secure your spot at this incredible event, don’t forget to register [here](insert registration link). Space is limited to 120 participants, so make sure to reserve your place before it’s too late. It’s time to turn your dreams of playing college soccer into a reality.