Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit (in French: strange fruit) is a song which made the turn of the world.

The afro-American singer interpreted it for the first time in 1939, with the Society Coffee in New York. This piece written and composed by Abel Meeropol count among the artistic indictments most vibrating against lynchings usually practised in the south of The United States ; it moreover is regarded as one of the first manifestations of movement for the civic rights in this country. The term "Strange Fruit" became synonymous with lynching besides.

"Strange Fruit" evoked in the piece is the body of a black hung with a tree. The emotional power of the text is due to its evocation of the traditional rural life in the south of the United States, which it confronts with the hard reality of lynching. Thus, one can read in the second stanza: "pastoral Scene of the valiant South, the eyes exorbities and the twisted mouth, Perfume of the soft and fresh magniolia, Then a sudden odor of burned flesh".

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood one the leaves
Blood At the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

The trees of the South bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the sheets,
Blood with the roots,
A black body balancing itself in the breeze of the South,
Strange fruit during with the poplars.



... for the sun to rot/for the tree to drop/Here is has strange and bitter crop. (rotted by the sun, it will fall from the tree, strange and bitter harvest). After abolition of the slavery and during the phase of rebuilding at the end of the American Civil War, racism is still deeply anchored to the USA. The supreme Court accepted racial segregation according to the principle separated but equal . However, the equality is not that seldom to go. According to the careful estimates from Tuskegee Institute, 3.833 people were lynched between 1889 and 1940; 90 % of these assassinations were made in the States of the south and 4 victims out of 5 are Blacks. Often, as in the case of Emmett Till, lynching was not even justified by a real or supposed criminal act. When Billie Holiday interprets for the first time this song, three lynchings were already perpetrated this year (1939). A survey of the time reveals that six White out of ten favoured this practice.

Les arbres du Sud portent un étrange fruit
The trees of the South bear a strange fruit

The song "Strange Fruit" dissociates usual repertory of Billie Holiday. Singer of jazz and already famous blues in the United States, it acquires an international notoriety thanks to "Strange Fruit". The public image of Billie Holiday becomes indissociable piece: the singer, famous for her capacity to allure and move the public, proves here that it can also upset it. Certain people of its entourage claimed that intellectually, it was not able to include/understand dimension symbolic system of the text. That seems incredible, on the one hand because of its interpretation, other because lynching was omnipresent at the time and that it is improbable that Black does not include/understand what it turned over. Billie Holiday wished itself that the title of its autobiography takes again the last words of the song, "Crop Bitter" (in French: bitter harvest), which refused the publisher.

The author and type-setter: Abel Meeropol

Abel Meeropol was a teaching Jew of Russian extraction living in and member of . After having seen photographs of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, it was shocked so much that it did not sleep about it during some time. It then wrote the poem "Bitter Fruit" which it published under the pseudonym of Lewis Allan in the magazine "New York Teacher" and the communist newspaper "New Masses". A little later, it put the poem in music. This one was interpreted for the first time by the wife of Abel Meeropol at a meeting organized by the trade union of the teachers of New York. "Strange Fruit" acquired a certain popularity within the American left. Barney Josephson, the owner of the International Coffee, intended to speak about the?uvre and decided to introduce Abel Meeropol at Billie Holiday. Although Meeropol composed of other songs thereafter, in particular a great success for , it remained very attached to "Strange Fruit". It was thus all the more affected when Billie Holiday claimed, in its autobiography, to have written this song with its guide, the pianist Sonny White.


Billie Holiday

Holiday first of all hesitated to interpret "Strange Fruit" over scene because the song dissociated too much of its usual repertory. After its first interpretation of the piece to the Society Coffee, the room first of all remained plunged in a heavy silence then shy persons applause were made hear, who developed progressively. Regarded up to that point as a communist song of fight or a lament (often interpreted in an exaggeratedly pathetic way), this title took a new dimension. A biographer of Billie Holiday pointed out that, in a number of recoveries, one heard an excellent interpretation of a very good piece. But when Billie entonnait it, there was the impression to be with the foot of the tree. The direct and incisive character of its interpretation touched an audience definitely larger than would have done it an approach political or sympathizing. "Strange Fruit" was the last piece of the concert of Billie Holiday to the Coffee Society Holidays, as in many other representations thereafter. All the lights died out, put aside a spot directed on the singer, who kept the eyes closed during all the introduction. At the end of the piece, it left the scene in a general silence, to render comprehensible with the public which the concert was finished. For Billie Holiday, the song was either a source of division with a friendly public, or a challenge with respect to an audience which, according to it, did not express sufficient respect to him. It wrote in its autobiography: "This song made it possible to make the sorting between people well and the cretins". Holiday, which left only seldom in round in the States the south, there seldom interpreted "Strange Fruit" because it was clear that it was likely y to have grabuge. It was the case with Mobile, in Alabama, where it was driven out city right to have tested entonner the piece.


Columbia Records, with which Billie Holiday was under contract at the time, refused to produce the recording of "Strange Fruit". As the house of production did not make any official statement at the time, one can only calculate the reasons for his refusal. On the one hand, the white public of the South of the United States found the song too subversive and its publication would have had negative effects on the businesses; in addition, it represented a true hiatus in the standard repertory of Billie Holiday, which comprised primarily songs traditionally played in the night clubs. Finally, the singer obtained the agreement of Commodore Records, a small Jewish house of discs of New York, to record Strange Fruit .

Paradoxically, although this piece forms integral part of the history of the American music and that there remains very appreciated of the public, he is only seldom interpreted. For a number of listeners, the song, and in particular its interpretation by Billie Holiday, are considered destabilizing, even painful to hear. For a singer, to interpret this piece is a true challenge because the version of Billie Holiday makes date, from where an enormous pressure.

Among the other famous interpreters of "Strange Fruit", one can quote Josh White, Carmen McRae, Eartha Kitt, Cassandra Wilson, , Tori Amos, Seeger Pete, , Dee Dee Bridgewater, Marcus Miller (with the low clarinet), and ; moreover, Tricky in carried out a remix and Lester Bowie an instrumental version with its group Brass Fantasy. In 2002, Joel Katz documentary turned on the song.


For the movement of the civic rights, "Strange Fruit", from its dimension symbolic system, had an effect comparable with the refusal of Rosa Parks to yield its place to a White in a bus, the 1er December 1955. In addition to We Shall Overcome and perhaps too The Murder of Emmett Till of , no other song is also closely related to the political combat of the Blacks for the equality. Raised with the row of Black Marseillaise or qualified with contempt of song of propaganda at its beginnings, the song gradually took an apolitical dimension, as an indictment for dignity and justice.

The book Blues Legacies and Black Feminism ofAngela Davis an important role in the way played in which Billie Holiday was perceived. Up to that point, the singer was regarded as a "simple singer of variety", in other words a pure vector of her repertory. However, research of Angela Davis revealed a woman full with insurance, completely conscious of the contents and effect of "Strange Fruit".

Moreover, Billie Holiday sang it in a targeted way. Although this?uvre forms integral part of its standard repertory, it often varied interpretation from it. For Angela Davis, "Strange Fruit" started again in a decisive way the tradition of resistance and protest in the American black music and the culture, but also in those of the other communities. Whereas in 1939, it qualified the piece "Strange Fruit" of music of propaganda, the same magazine hoisted, sixty years later, the title with the row of song of the 20E century. "Strange Fruit" was "Carmen a long time not grata" with the radio in the United States, BBC first of all refused to diffuse it and it was officially prohibited on the South-African waves of the time of Apartheid.


  • Donald Clarke: "Billie Holiday. Wishing one the Moon ". München, Piper 1995. ISBN 3-49203-756-9 (With long interviews of close relations of Billie Holiday on the history of the song).
  • Angela Davis: "Blues Legacies and Black Feminism". Various editions, by ex. Vintage Books 1999 ISBN 0-67977-126-3 (with a very interesting test on the interpretation of the piece).
  • David Margolick and Hilton Als: "Strange Fruit. Billie Holiday, Coffee Society and year Early Cry for Civil Rights ". Running Press, 2000. ISBN 0-76240-677-1 (Foreword of Cassandra Wilson. With a discography of the various recordings until 2000.)
  • David Margolick and Hilton Als: "Strange Fruit. The Biography of has Song ". Ecco 2001. ISBN 0-06095-956-8
  • Billie Holiday with William Dufty: "Lady sings the blues", autobiography. Eds bracket, Europalinos collection, ISBN 2863646192.


- Reach the articles of Wikipédia concerning the music.


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