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29 October 2013 @ 11:27 am
National Poetry Month #29 - Strange Fruit  
Strange Fruit
Abel Meeropol

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 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.

'Strange Fruit', often called 'the original protest song', is an iconic jazz piece written in 1937 by New York high school teacher Abel Meeropol.  Meeropol, who was Jewish, was inspired by a photo of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana.  The song became one of the standards of jazz diva Billie Holiday, who first performed it in 1939 at the Cafe Society in lower Manhattan and later went on to record it despite fears of retaliation from record retailers in the South.  At the Cafe Society, she would close her set with 'Strange Fruit'; the waiters would stop all service in advance, the room would be completely dark except for a spotlight on her face, and there would be no encore.  When the song ended, the spotlight would go off, and when the lights came back on, Holiday would be gone.

Here is some rare live footage of Holiday performing 'Strange Fruit'.