Strange Fruit Street Art
Time Magazine condemned this song as “musical propaganda” when it was first released. In 1999, the same magazine named it “Song of the Century”. Strange Fruit is an iconic song about violent racism.
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Strange Fruit was first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939 during segregation in the US and the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe. The song was inspired by a photograph of the lynching of two black men in 1930. Civil rights activist James Cameron was also attacked by the same mob of thousands of people, but was released before being killed. He said he had a scar from the rope around his neck.
The same lynching also inspired other art, including the opening line of Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row (“They’re selling postcards of the hanging”).
Billie Holiday’s record label (Columbia) refused to release Strange Fruit, fearing backlash from record retailers in the South, so it was released on the smaller label Commodore.
The man who wrote the song, Abel Meeropol, was a Jewish teacher living in New York. At the time, fighting racism was dangerous and he was called to testify before a committee investigating communism in schools. They asked him if the Communist Party paid him to write the song. Of course, he didn’t write Strange Fruit for money. He once said he was haunted for days by the photograph of the lynching and first wrote a poem about it, which later turned into the song.
So, the chain of inspiration goes: photograph → poem → song → street art.