"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday (1939)
Based on a poem by Abel Meeropol published in January 1937, “Strange Fruit” was a song protesting the lynching of African Americans and was recorded by African American jazz singer Billie Holiday in 1939. The song’s haunting lyrics compare lynching victims to the fruit of trees in lines such as “Southern trees bear a 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.” Holiday was first introduced to “Strange Fruit” while performing at Café Society in New York. Though she feared retaliation, Holiday approached her label, Columbia, about recording the song. Columbia, however, refused due to concerns of the reaction in the South. Holiday eventually recorded “Strange Fruit” with Commodore Records and distributed through Vocalion Records.
Since called “a declaration” and “the beginning of the civil rights movement,” Billie Holiday continued regularly singing “Strange Fruit” for twenty years. The 1939 recording eventually sold one million copies and became one of Holiday’s biggest hits. In 1999, Time magazine designated “Strange Fruit” as Best Song of the Century, and it was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2002. “Strange Fruit” has been covered by many notable singers including Nina Simone (1965), Siouxsie and the Banshees (1987), and René Marie (2001), among others. “Strange Fruit” continues to be a political anthem of anti-racism in the United States.
"Strange Fruit," Billie Holiday, Commodore Records, 1939