Monday, March 2, 2009

Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"

Ben tipped me off to this song. Billie Holiday, otherwise known as Lady Day, adapted this song from a poem and melody written by an English teacher named Abel Meeropol who wanted to address the southern atrocity, lynching. Holiday performed this at the risk of losing her career. Her music was a seminal contribution to the jazz musical surge towards the end of the Harlem Renaissance. It popularized the intimacy that is felt while listening to this song, watching her visage, and reading her words. Read the lyrics first, then listen, then read and listen at the same time.

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and 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,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Some things to think about:

What does Holiday do differently with her voice? Her face? What effect does it have on you as you watch her?
Why does Meeropol use the poplar tree as a vehicle to portray lynching?
What is significant about the scent of magnolias?

Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959)
Abel Meeropol (February 10, 1903 - October 30, 1986)

Thanks for that awesome observation Ben.

1 comment:

Adam Shapiro said...

Billie Holiday sent a shiver down my spine with that piece of music! Its so powerful and emotional. Thank You for introducing me to this blues singer.