Probably Billie Holiday’s most famous song. She recorded it in 1939 after seeing the Jim Crow South when she was on the road with Artie Shaw’s all-White jazz band.
She was with Columbia Records at the time but they did not want to record it. They said it would not be a hit. So they let her record it at Commodore.
The song was written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher in the Bronx, after he saw a picture of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in the newspaper. Shipp and Smith were hanged from a maple tree in Indiana in the American North. In Meerapol’s song that becomes a poplar tree in the South. There were lynchings in the North, but where states like Indiana lynched dozens of Blacks, states like Mississippi in the South were lynching hundreds.
The song became a regular at left-wing gatherings, where Meeropol’s wife and others sang it. The song became far more powerful when Billie Holiday sang it.
When Holiday’s song came out, Time magazine called it, “a piece of musical propaganda.” But by 1999, the same magazine was calling it the Song of the Century.
– Abagond, 2010, 2015.
Sources: Mainly Song Facts.
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 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.