Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Billie Holliday: "Strange Fruit"

This one's a song with an interesting history, one of America's first "protest" songs. It's not quite jazz; it's not quite folk music. I first heard it when it was covered by Nina Simone. But Holliday's original version gives me shivers. Billie Holliday, that cigarette-smoking, gin-slugging, gambling diva who "acted like a man," took both male and female lovers, and had an unremarkable voice (just barely over an octave range) yet could make a song her own and make it unforgettable ... THAT Billie Holliday, who, once down South, walked away from a lucrative gig with Artie Shaw's orchestra when a white man yelled out during the set to "bring that nigger singer back onstage."

Simply put, the song "Strange Fruit" (1939) is about the lynching of black people in the American South. Read more about it here.

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