Billie Holiday. Strange Fruit.
Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is one of the finest song settings ever made of an American poem. Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol) wrote the haunting verse. Never mind a little video distortion — this is a rare historic performance. Let it stand as my tribute to Martin Luther King Day.
After I closed with this last Friday on Café Mouffe, I found David Margolik’s wonderful essay on “Strange Fruit” published in Vanity Fair, September 1998.
Here are the lyrics as Billie sang them:
Strange Fruit - Lewis Allan
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.