The Strange Fruit: Vibing To Billie Holiday’s Song She Recorded At 24

The Strange Fruit: Vibing To Billie Holiday’s Song She Recorded At 24

Billie Holiday recorded the song "Strange Fruit" at the age of 24 and performed it as part of her concert at New York City's Greenwich Village Club.

LylaUpdated: Friday, January 12, 2024, 03:09 PM IST
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Billie Holiday's career in show business began at the age of 14 and she signed her first recording contract at the age of 20. But from the beginning of her music career, she had all kinds of experiences that a black artist back in time could have. This included the active enforcement of Jim Crow laws (laws that legalized racial segregation and apartheid in public places in America), lynching (killing someone for an alleged offence without a legal trial, especially by hanging.and mostly because they were black.) in the South, and the growing racism in North America. She often had to use an entrance reserved for blacks at concert venues which separated her from the other white band members. She was not allowed to use public accommodations (a special booklet called 'Green Book' was printed for blacks. This booklet listed the hotels and motels they were allowed to stay in and were not allowed to stay anywhere else.

The Oscar-winning movie Green book on this topic is a must-watch.) Also, she was forced to use a different bus from her white colleagues quite often. Billie Holiday recorded the song "Strange Fruit" at the age of 24 and performed it as part of her concert at New York City's Greenwich Village Club. 'Strange Fruit' was first written as a poem (under the title 'Bitter Fruit') by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher. The poem was inspired by a well-known photograph of two black teenagers who were imprisoned for murdering a white factory worker. A mob (white, of course) dragged these boys from the jail, killed them, and hung them on a tree for everyone to see (and especially to frighten the blacks.). The two boys hanging from the tree looked like two fruits, hence the title. "That song scared me of revenge, but those two boys reminded me of my father, so I kept singing it," said Billie. She made certain rules in the club during her performance of this song. The waiters had to stop taking any orders before she started performing that song, the room had to be absolutely dark except for the spotlight on Billie’s face, and there wouldn’t be an encore after this final performance.

During the introduction of the song, she would stand with her eyes closed, as if she was praying! But most record labels refused to record this song for fear of the white (also rich and powerful) people, but the producer of Commodore Records - Milt Gabler - dared to record the song and it became Billie’s biggest selling record! Before Nina Simone's 'Mississippi Goddam', 'Strange Fruit' became an anthem for anti-lynching and anti-racism movements. The song earned Billie a mention in 'Time' magazine. She became a real star.

Billie started a restaurant called 'Mom Holiday’s' to help her mother so that she would be busy with work and not have to worry about Billie all the time. One night when Billie needed money, she went to her mother to ask for help. But when her mother turned her down, furious Billie screamed painfully 'God bless the child that's got his own' and later wrote the song 'God Bless the Child', Billie's biggest commercial success! Holliday's vocal delivery made her mark throughout her career. Her 'improvisational technique' compensated for her lack of musical education though it's difficult to improvise without boring the audience. (Variations in repetitions is the real skill in jazz.) Holliday used to say, ``I want my voice to sound like an instrument!'' Her last major recording was the album 'Lady in Satin' composed by Ray Ellis. The album featured a 40-piece orchestra. In 1997, Ray Ellis said in an interview, "I think the most emotional moment of the recording was hearing the playback of 'I'm a Fool to Want You.' Billie had tears in his eyes. We finished the album and went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her singing at first, but back then I was only 'technically' listening to her music. When I heard the final mixing a few weeks later, I realized that Billie was truly a wonderful, extraordinary and unique singer of all the time!'' How did Billie- a successful jazz singer in the 60's- get trapped into drug addiction which led to a miserable ending of her life? In the next part..

Billie started a restaurant called 'Mom Holiday’s' to help her mother so that she would be busy with work and not have to worry about Billie all the time. One night when Billie needed money, she went to her mother to ask for help. But when her mother turned her down, furious Billie screamed painfully 'God bless the child that's got his own' and later wrote the song 'God Bless the Child', Billie's biggest commercial success! Holliday's vocal delivery made her mark throughout her career. Her 'improvisational technique' compensated for her lack of musical education though it's difficult to improvise without boring the audience. (Variations in repetitions is the real skill in jazz.) Holliday used to say, ``I want my voice to sound like an instrument!'' Her last major recording was the album 'Lady in Satin' composed by Ray Ellis. The album featured a 40-piece orchestra. In 1997, Ray Ellis said in an interview, "I think the most emotional moment of the recording was hearing the playback of 'I'm a Fool to Want You.' Billie had tears in his eyes. We finished the album and went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her singing at first, but back then I was only 'technically' listening to her music. When I heard the final mixing a few weeks later, I realized that Billie was truly a wonderful, extraordinary and unique singer of all the time!'' How did Billie- a successful jazz singer in the 60's- get trapped into drug addiction which led to a miserable ending of her life?  In the next part..

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