Strange Fruit in its political impact was not new to me. I have heard about it’s influence whenever I was taught civil rights. I knew it as a poem originally written by Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym “Lewis Allen” that he would later set to music and many would cover it. This is my first time actually listening to the song by the artist Billie Holiday. Holiday was a black jazz musician who said the song reminded her of the racism her father dealt with because he had been denied medical treatment and died of a fatal lung disorder. She would ultimately be the one to popularize the song.
The version I listened to which was live included just Holiday’s singing and the small minor notes of the accompanying piano. I felt this gave the song the somber and surreal haunting atmosphere it wanted to convey. The lyrics are a clear indicator that the song is made to be a metaphor for lynching and it uses imagery of nature and beauty to juxtapose the horrific nature of lynchings. The song is building on the metaphor and then there is a sudden right on her last note “crop” as there is a sudden jazz blast to accentuate the horror of the song. I can’t make out the instruments used exactly aside from a general brass sound. I felt that it made you jump and realize that the metaphor is over and that this is happening.
I really liked Holiday’s voice. It was soulful and strong but she held back in the beginning and towards the end showed the potential of her voice. The haunting instrumentals combined with her smooth and somber intonation make a very impacting song.