Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday


  • Name of musician/Band 

Billie Holiday

  • Reason behind protest and subject 

Originally a poem by Abel Meeropol, this song is about the lynching of African Americans partially in southern america. Abel was spurred on to write the song after seeing graph images of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith who had been lynched.

The subject of this song has the underlying topic of white supremacy and it is protesting American racism and the lynching of African Americans.

  • Reason you picked artist/singer 

Billie Holiday is one of the most inflectional jazz singers, and her music is what i was introduced with when falling in love with jazz and blues. I also know the song Strange Fruit extremely well so having this chance to delve deep into the meaning of it was perfect opportunity.

  • Date

Recorded April 20th 1939 and Released in the same year

August 7th 1930 – Lyric significance date

  • Location 

Indiana – southern america  ‘The heartlands’

  • Historical significance 

Billie Holiday was released from her contract specifically to record this song as her label were afraid as the lyrics were so controversial. It was the first time any black artist had sung such controversial lyrics. The song became one recognised to spur on a civil rights movement, A symbol of the racism and violence that was endured, no other artist has yet released a song that spoke about such topics so literally and graphic.

The song brought many success to Billie Holiday, with many others jumping to the chance to cover it. It is still to this day seen as being a historical significance for black americans, a protest against white supremacists.

  • Connection with contemporary events

Lynching was a huge racial attack and was brought to promote white supremacy and black powerlessness. Nearly all of whom lynched were black/african americans, these people were being accused of crimes and without any justice were sent to get lynched. This lynching being a way to rid of african americans after slavery.

Politics and communism also the at the forefront of a linking topic, the civil rights movement being a underlying theme through the song. Racial equality, something that was being brushed under the carpet at the time.

The Jim Crow era… this topic was introduced through analysis of the lyrics so more on this topic is answered in the section below.

  • Sample of lyrics with appropriate analysis including evidence

With there only being three verses creating the whole song I chose to look at the song as a whole and annotate it…

Strange fruit analysis

The one lyric that spurred on much researching opening a new meaning was:

‘Here is fruit for the crows to pluck’

This line took me on to find out about the Jim Crow era, at first the reference to a crow I thought was because the connotations a crow has with black and death but after looking into it more I think it was a reference to Jim Crow.

Jim Crow was a racial caste system, involving a series of anti black laws and was deemed as a way of life. This system was operated primarily in the south but in other areas to, this leading me onto to believe why ‘crow’ was referenced in the song.

Evidence –

This website delves into the Jim Crow era, proving why it would be a reference in ‘Strange Fruit’

The song lyrics are very literal and this is why the song had such a huge impact as it shone a light on the brutality of white people on black people. A taboo subject that the song captures in true form, not holding back but also using clever techniques such as juxtaposition to evoke emotion.

  • Song Form and explain why it is used 

The song form is AAA

The song is made up of three verses, no chorus, this form I think really captures the haunting that the song provokes.  The verses offer this haunting sound and with it not changing empowers this feeling as you are left on edge.

  • Relevance of the lyric: is the message convincing

As stated before, the lyric is literal and brutally honest, sharing the brutal nature of what was happening at the time the song is referring to.

The lyrics touch on an extremely important subject in not only american history but world history. Racial inequality was a huge part of american history, black people had no power and this song shows this at its true violent nature. Sharing what white supremacy is and what it was they did.

The poem and the message was extremely convincing and Billie Holiday managed to get it heard. She was the voice that the southern african american people didn’t have.

  • Trivia related 

This song was covered by many well known artist, with the likes of Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley being just two of them.

The song was also sampled in a Kanye West track – Blood on the leaves. Only not the Billie Holiday version but Nina Simones being the sampled cover for it.