“Strange Fruit” is a tragic song famously performed by Billie Holiday, one of America’s most tragic singers. The devastating image of “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” is the mournful heart of this antiracism song. Named song of the century by TIME in 1999, the lyrics were written by Abel Meeropol, an English teacher from the Bronx who in 1937 ran across a photograph of a lynching that both disturbed and inspired him. The resulting poem became the basis of the song two years later. Holiday’s live version of “Strange Fruit,” with only a piano backing her, is even more raw and heartfelt than the recording. You can feel her anguish, you can feel her sadness, you can feel her anger. It’s a song that is complicated in a unique way — such beautiful humanity in such a shameful topic.
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