Strange Fruit is a heart wrenching poem, that was converted to a song in the 1930’s.
The lyrics set an eerie scene of “black bodies swinging in a southern breeze”, referring to the corpses of lynched men hanging from trees. It’s a horrific image and the song never seizes to give me chills.
The song has been sung by many great singers, Billie Holiday being the first to bring it to the big crowds in 1939.
That was 80 years ago.
There are very few people left that remember first hand the time that Ku Klux Klan terror was rampant and lynchings were a real threat to people of color in the United States.
It was a time that explicitly racist laws led to explicitly racist behavior. The wounds of that era continue to fester on today.
I am so sorry.
I do not say this as an apology, because it is not my place to do so. I am not responsible nor am I in a position to offer anybody solace, closure or forgiveness. But I am most definitely sorry.
I am sorry that we haven’t learned all there was to learn from the horrors that occurred in the transitional years from 19th to 20th century.
I am sorry that black men are still dying at the hands of white men in acts of hate and fear.
I am sorry a movement such as Black Lives Matter is necessary.
I am sorry that these events form part of our story as human beings.
It is the rendition of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa that touches me the most (all though India Arie’s version is a very close second).
I have read comments stating a white person shouldn’t touch this song.
Is it possible that, as a white woman, I needed a caucasian interpretation of the song to feel it so deep in my gut?
Or is it possible that a black musician’s proximity to the lyrics and personal pain makes a certain reservation inevitable (and necessary, to avoid breaking down half way through the song)?
I understand this is not a song that should be taken lightly. It is not a song that should be sung to merely show off ones vocal skills, which is why the Ariana Grandes of this world should steer clear of the song (until perhaps they are mature enough and have put on some more clothes).
Beth Hart comes across as a genuine person to me. A person who has fought all sorts of demons, knows the meaning of pain and has found a way to channel that in a productive way. I don’t feel her interpretation of the song would be perceived as disingenuous or disrespectful.
If anybody feels this is an error of judgement from my side, do let me know. It is not my intention to offend, but I am ready to take responsibility for it if I did. For that I would apologize.
3 thoughts on “Strange Fruit (sorry)”
I think it’s a pretty powerful rendition, Epi. A couple of places sound a slightly false note to me, but other parts are discordant and wrenching, as well they should be. Most of the first half seemed pretty close to Billie Holiday’s version, which to me is the gold standard, partly because Billie Holiday’s has consummate phrasing, but also just because hers is the version I know.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a memorial to celebrate the life of a friend of mine. I had come to know here relatively recently and in only one part of her life, which had been rich and multifarious. I learned so much about her that I wish I had known while she was with us. I learned that making music had always been a big part of her life, and we all joined in as her husband and daughter and old family friends sang some of her favorite songs, some of which were mine as well. Anyway, I learned that the person who wrote “Strange Fruit”, both the words and the music, was her father-in-law Abel Meeropol. I had to tell you.
Wow. First of all I’m so sorry you had to say good bye to a new friend too soon. Music is such a wonderful way to be together and honor a loved one. It sounds like a very special memorial. Which songs touched you the most?
Silently tipping my mental hat to Mr Meeropol as I write this.