Some of the graphics used in this video may be disturbing and even repulsive to some. The pictures used were photographs taken at the time period and other photos that corresponded well with the song. If you are unable to view pictures of lynching or death please do not watch. I do not own any rights to any of these pictures.
This song is sung by the wonderful and fabulous Billie Holiday. This song is her vocal rendition of a poem by a white Jewish high school teacher from the Bronx by the name of Abel Meeropol. The poem was in response to Lawrence Beitler's photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. He published the poem under the title "Bitter Fruit" in 1937 in The New York Teacher, a union magazine. Though Meeropol had often asked others (notably Earl Robinson) to set his poems to music, he set "Strange Fruit" to music himself and the piece gained a certain success as a protest song in and around New York. Meeropol, his wife, and black vocalist Laura Duncan performed it at Madison Square Garden. 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. 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. I hope you enjoy Billie's amazing rendition of "Strange Fruit."