Billie Holliday

Billie Holliday was an influential songwriter and jazz singer whose vocal style pioneered new ways of manipulating tempo and phrasing.  In 1939, she performed Strange Fruit, a poem set to music by Abel Meeropol.  The haunting anti-lynching song has been called the original protest song, depicting lynching in all of its brutality and articulating the growing awareness and anger that was to find expression in the rise of the mass civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.  Some clubs refused to allow Holiday to sing what had become her signature song so she insisted on contracts specifying her right to sing it.

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 popular 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

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