1001 Songs Challenge,  1930s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #16: Strange Fruit (1939)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!


Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit (1939)

Strange Fruit

” Strange Fruit” is a song recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, written by Abel Meeropol and published in 1937. It protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees.

Lyrics (via Genius)
Learn more about this song (via Genius)


We remain in the US and delve once more into the world of jazz and the company of Lady Day, better known as Billie Holiday. Holiday became a renowned singer across three decades but tragically died aged only 44, following years of drug and alcohol abuse. I have heard of Billie Holiday but have been shamefully ignorant of her work so today is something of an education in the form of Strange Fruit.

Strange Fruit began life as a poem by a Jewish-American teacher, Abel Meeropol, and it was inspired by the lynchings of Black Americans, particularly in the South. Meeropol wrote it as a protest song against these inhumane acts. The song uses an extended metaphor describing the bodies hanging from the trees as strange fruit on the tree instead. The lyrics are frighteningly dark with mention of “blood”, “bulging eyes” and “burning flesh”. The song is not remotely restrained in conveying its message at these atrocities. Little is left to the imagination.

Billie Holiday’s version of the song is the most famous and some have argued that no one sang it better than she did. The song hits you hard with the music striking you to the bones and Holiday’s voice slowly, painfully, takes you through every word of horror creating a vivid picture in your mind. Unsurprisingly, the song was not a good match for the radio and did not get as much airplay as it deserved. A deeply disturbing song but one delivered impeccably by Holiday.


Favourite song so far:

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit (1939)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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