Rhapsody in Black

Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit' speaks to us about racial violence

Billie Holiday performing at the Downbeat Club in New York, Feb. 1947.William P. Gottlieb Collection / U.S. Library of Congress

Rhapsody in Black Billie Holiday Strange Fruit


download audio

April 06, 2023

Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit' is an unforgettable and mesmerizing classic that speaks to racial violence and anti-lynching legislation. Teacher, songwriter and poet Abel Meropol wrote the poem Strange Fruit in 1937 after seeing a photograph of a double hanging in Indiana. Meropol attended the Café Society when Billie Holiday sang her version of Strange Fruit and said, "She gave a startling, most dramatic and effective interpretation which could jolt an audience out of its complacency anywhere. This was exactly what I wanted the song to do and why I wrote it."

Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit’

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.


Host: Vernon Neal

Producer: Dan Nass

Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship

Additional music selections: Jeffrey Yelverton

Executive Producer: Julie Amacher