First recorded in 1939, the protest song “Strange Fruit” came to articulate the racism and brutality of lynching* endured by so many in the United States, particularly in the south. According to figures kept by the Tuskegee Institute, of the 3833 lynchings between 1889 and 1940, four fifths of the ninety percent lynched in the south were of African American descent.
As horrific and cruel lynching was, it was considered acceptable. Society at the time believed that lynching was an act that was designed to keep African Americans in their place, its supporters rejected the notion that ‘negroes’ or other minorities had equal rights. Lynching was also considered a sport in some ways, postcards were taken of crowds picnicking under hanging corpses to show people how proud they were of what they had accomplished. A Jewish schoolteacher, Abel Meeropol, saw one of these postcards in the 1930s and was prompted to write the song “Strange Fruit” (which was originally called “Bitter Fruit”) - later to be famous by Billie Holiday. “I wrote “Strange Fruit”” Meeropol said, “because I hate lynching and I hate injustice and I hate people who perpetuate it.”
Billie Holiday was only able performing at Café Society due to harmful ramifications of racist insults she'd encountered while touring with the popular Artie Shaw band. For example she would would have to enter hotels through the backdoor while other performers would have the privilege and respect of entering through the front doors. This was not only because of the response to the song, but also because of her African American background.
Holiday said that singing “Strange Fruit” 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. She would close her performances with this song; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday's face; and...
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