Thursday, February 17, 2011
I came across this terrific piece yesterday about Billy Holiday's Strange Fruit. It was an apt piece of timing because I'm currently reading Carson McCullers' The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, a novel written and set in 1939, the year Billie Holiday unleashed this song on the world, and dealing, like the song, with racist violence and murder.
I remember the first time I heard Strange Fruit. I'd been told about it, knew what it was about, knew what to expect, and it still shocked me into silence at the end. Dorian Lynskey makes the point that it is stunning because it is both a protest song and a work of art: it is brilliant on both levels simultaneously, and that is what gives it such immense power.
One can only imagine the impact it must have had on contemporary audiences, at a time when the civil rights movement was barely making any inroads into American society.