Strange Fruit

There is little doubt that Billie Holiday's rendition of "Strange Fruit" is among the greatest artistic interpretations of the horror caused by American racism. Originally written in 1937 as "Bitter Fruit", a poem by Aber Meeropol, the lyrics were inspired by Lawrence Beitler's photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. He set it to music and performed it with his wife in and around New York. Holliday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939, regularly singing it afterwards with the following rules: she would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on her face; and there would be no encore. During the musical introduction, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer.