The “Song of the Century” according to Time Magazine in 1999, was written by Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan) in the late 1930s. The stark and haunting anti-lynching anthem, which Meeropol originally wrote as a poem entitled “Bitter Fruit” before changing the name and setting it to music, was first performed by Abel’s wife Anne at teacher’s union meetings. Billie Holiday made an iconic recording in 1939, and numerous other artists have since released their own versions. Strange Fruit still inspires a vast array of art and culture around the world today.
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"Bob Dylan cites the song [Strange Fruit] as a personal inspiration. It has inspired books, an opera and continues to be recorded today. "
There is a strange fruit quilt, made by "April Shipp a quilt-maker from Detroit. She spent four years working on a large quilt called Strange Fruit. It bears the names of over 5,000 lynched men, women and children, each one lovingly sewn in gold thread on black fabric."
In 1953 Abel Meeropol (who wrote Strange Fruit) was asked to be a pallbearer for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after their execution... Later that year he attended a Christmas party at the residence of W. E. B. Du Bois, who had publicly campaigned against lynching. At that party Meeropol met the Rosenbergs’ two orphaned sons; he and his wife later adopted them.
Sources: https://commonreader.wustl.edu/c/the-deliberate-knot/ & "The Deliberate Knot The Thirteenth Turn explores the noose as metaphor, and mob" by David Thomas Konig, The Common Reader: A Journal of The Essay, June 1, 2015
"Eighty years ago, two young African-American men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were lynched in the town center of Marion, Ind. Local photographer Lawrence Beitler took what would become the most iconic photograph of lynching in America... The photograph helped inspire the poem and song "Strange Fruit" written by Abel Meeropol -- and performed around the world by Billie Holiday. But there was a third person, 16-year-old James Cameron, who narrowly survived the lynching."
According to “Lynching in America,” a report published by the Equal Justice Initiative (https://eji.org), between 1877 and 1950, there were at least 4075 lynchings in the United States.
Strange fruit has inspired artists beyond musicians, including James VerDoorn, who created "Strange Fruit" a piece of digital artwork.
In 1999, Time magazine voted this the Song of the Century. When the song first came out it was denounced by the same magazine as 'A piece of musical propaganda.'
Performances & Recordings
Guest blog by RFC Founder Robert Meeropol, "My father Abel Meeropol was born in The Bronx in 1903 and grew up there. He was the son of Jewish immigrants..."
Smithsonian collection of Billie Holiday photos, artworks, recordings and more
Performance clips of Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill".
Weekly podcast of musings on politics, pop culture and black gay life (WFPL)
Information about the Tony award-nominated musical "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill," that recounts Billie Holiday's life story through the songs that made her famous.
A multi-media history and education project by Equal Justice Initiative documenting the history of lynching in America