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."
What can we say about Billie Holiday that has not already been said before? Coming to prominence in the 1930’s where she played with the Teddy Wilson band in 1935, went solo in 1936, joined Count Basie in 1937 and finally Artie Shaw in 1938 before finally stepping out on her own again as one of the greatest jazz singers who ever lived! There is something about her voice that sets “Lady Day” apart from any of her contempories, or indeed anyone who tried to follow in her giant footsteps. Perhaps it was her tough upbringing, playing in the small bars of Harlem (including a spell in a brothel), that gave her voice that special anguish, pain and sadness, a yearning for something or someone better in her life.
"Strange Fruit" is a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, who first sang and recorded it in 1939. Written by the teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem, it exposed American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Such lynchings had occurred chiefly in the South but also in other regions of the United States. Meeropol set it to music and with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, performed it as a protest song in New York venues, including Madison Square Garden.
The song has been covered by artists, as well as inspiring novels, other poems and other creative works. In 1978 Holiday's version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Barney Josephson, the founder of Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, New York's first integrated nightclub, heard the song and introduced it to Billie Holiday. Other reports say that Robert Gordon, who was directing Billie Holiday's show at Cafe Society, heard the song at Madison Square Garden and introduced it to her. Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939. She said that singing it 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. Because of the poignancy of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: 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, Holiday would stand with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer.
Holiday approached her recording label, Columbia, about the song, but the company feared reaction by record retailers in the South, as well as negative reaction from affiliates of its co-owned radio network, CBS. Even John Hammond, Holiday's producer, refused so she turned to friend Milt Gabler, whose Commodore label produced alternative jazz. Holiday sang "Strange Fruit" for him a cappella, and moved him to tears. Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record it and Frankie Newton's eight-piece Cafe Society Band was used for the session. Because he was worried that the song was too short, Gabler asked pianist Sonny White to improvise an introduction so that Holiday only starts singing after 70 seconds. Gabler worked out a special arrangement with Vocalion Records to record and distribute the song.
She recorded two major sessions at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. The song was highly regarded and the 1939 record sold a million copies, in time becoming Holiday's biggest-selling record.
In her autobiography, "Lady Sings the Blues", Holiday suggested that she, together with Meeropol, her accompanist Sonny White, and arranger Danny Mendelsohn, set the poem to music. The writers David Margolick and Hilton Als dismissed that claim in their work, Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song writing that hers was "an account that may set a record for most misinformation per column inch". When challenged, Holiday - whose autobiography had been ghostwritten by William Dufty - claimed, "I ain't never read that book."
The compilation "Strange Fruit" was released in 1991 and features recordings from 1933-1940.
01. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues (Frankie Newton & His Orchestra)
02. Fine And Mellow (Frankie Newton & His Orchestra)
03. Yesterdays (Frankie Newton & His Orchestra)
04. Strange Fruit (Frankie Newton & His Orchestra)
05. Long Gone Blues (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
06. Swing! Brother, Swing! (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
07. St. Louis Blues (Billie Holiday With Benny Carter & His All Star Orchestra)
08. That's All I Ask Of You (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
09. Let's Call The Whole Thing Off (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
10. Summertime (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
11. Night And Day (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
12. They Can't Take That Away From Me (Count Basie & His Orchestra)
13. Your Mother's Son-In-Law (Benny Goodman & His Orchestra)
14. I Can't Pretend (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
15. Dream Of Life (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
16. Some Other Spring (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
17. Now They Call It Swing (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
18. I Hear Music (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
19. Body And Soul (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
20. I Wished On The Moon (Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra)
21. Ghost Of Yesterdays (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
22. On The Sentimental Side (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
23. The Very Thought Of You (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
24. You Go To My Head (Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra)
Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit (1933 - 1940)
(256 kbps, front cover included)