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Giant Steps: Billie Holiday

Thursday, 02 February 2017 10:34

The year was 1939. Bitter Fruit had made it’s way into the American protest songbook, but it wasn’t until it was put  into the hands of Billie Holiday and renamed Strange Fruit that the protest poem began to reach into America’s consciousness.

The tune was written as a poem by Abel Meeropol, it was a metaphor for the lynching of mostly young black men. It was a heinous, murderous practice that was taking place regularly across America at the time. When Billie Holiday sang it live at the Cafe Society in NYC it was always as the last song of the night, always with the lights dimmed, one spotlight, hushed crowd,  her eyes closed in a prayer.  "Strange Fruit."

Every utterance of the song was seen as a provocation,an act of rebellion but Billie bravely sang on.  Her label wouldn’t let her record it but she sang on. Eventually it was recorded, for many it was too painful  to hear, but it helped spark a movement.
Sixteen years later In Mississippi 13 year old Emmett Till was lynched for allegedly speaking to a white woman. His lifeless battered face made the cover of Jet Magazine - yet another spark plug for the civil rights movement. Just this week his accuser admitted she had lied, Little Emmett Till murdered without cause or sense. 

"Strange Fruit."

Billie Holiday spoke of how difficult it was for her to sing Strange Fruit, but she did. Strange Fruit went on to sell a million copies, it not only solidified Billie Holiday’s place as one of the most important voices of jazz. It placed her on stage, with one spotlight, eyes closed in the middle of history. 

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