Thursday, February 17, 2011

Strange Fruit

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.


Bad Catholic said...


Thanks for a Great Blog!

As a native white Southerner, I have never understood how "Christians" could justify lynching and other terrible things which were done to blacks in the "Jim Crow" South.

Even when brought to trial in front of real courts blacks in the South were routinely wrongfully convicted by all white, all male juries. If anything the rate of "legal lynching" was greater than that of the vigilante variety.

Apparently, man's inhumanity to man knows no bounds. The answer lies in the brutal fact that most whites tended to view blacks as sub-human. This is why the racial scars tend to run so deep in the U.S.

Furthermore, the Northern white liberals who were hanging out in Harlem night clubs listening to Billy Holliday were satisfied to remain apathetic and do nothing to relieve the suffering of those facing racial persecution in the South. This too is a form of racism.

Once again, thanks for a great blog!

Tom Conoboy said...

Hi there, thanks for commenting.

Yes, I think the 'legal lynching' as you describe it, is equally heinous. I've just finished Carson McCullers' The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, and the way Dr Copeland gets beaten up at the courthouse for having the 'uppity' nerve to ask to speak to the magistrate, is simply chilling.

Glad you like the blog. I see from your profile we have authors in common: I'm working my way through Walker Percy and have an abiding interest in Flannery O'Connor. I'm more of a bad atheist than a bad Catholic, but I find the issues they raise utterly fascinating.