Billie Holiday began her working life in a brothel before she began singing in nightclubs. She had a brief spell with the mighty Count Basie Orchestra, then became probably the first black woman to sing with a white orchestra - The Artie Shaw Orchestra.
Life was extremely tough for Afro-Americans and travelling through parts of the country where the Ku Klux Klan operated, could be very dangerous for Billie.
On their way to a concert, the band stopped the tour bus for a rest. Billie walked up a hill in a jubilant mood but on reaching the top of the hill, she saw a crowd of black people weeping. Swinging from a branch of a tree was the body of a young black man. His family cut his body down and took him away on a cart. The vision tormented Billie for a long time after. I used to think that the incident inspired Billie Holiday, herself, to write 'Strange Fruit,' but in fact it began it's life as a poem by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish teacher from The Bronx district of New York. He wrote it after seeing photographs of the lynchings of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith in 1930.
Eventually, Meeropol set the poem to music and sang it as a protest song with his wife, Ann and singer Laura Duncan at Madison Square Garden and other pretigious venues in New York.
In 1999, Time magazine called 'Strange Fruit,' "The Song of the Century."
Rapper, Kanye West used samples of Nina Simone's version of Strange Fruit on his song, 'Blood on the Leaves.'
Below, the lyrics describe disturbing, nightmarish scenes, reflecting on Black oppression.
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.
Strange fruit hanging from the popular 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 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.
Below is a youtube clip if you want to enjoy the song and for those who have yet to hear it.