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Morning Song – Strange Fruit

December 12, 2015

(One in a series of songs that Rolling Stone left out of its 2013 “reader’s poll” of the “10 best protest songs of all time”.)

Yes, criticizing Rolling Stone for perpetuating a culture of navel-gazing self-absorption by baby boomers is like criticizing the rattlesnake for biting (“You knew what I was when you picked me up”).  Nonetheless, gaze in awe at the hubris that creates a list of the “10 best protest songs of all time“…and doesn’t go back earlier than 1963.

“Strange Fruit” was so incendiary a song that Columbia Records wouldn’t let Billie Holliday release it because the company feared the potential backlash from Southern distributors and customers.  (Lynching, after all, was part of the “Southern way of life“.)  However the company did grant Holliday a one-song waiver from her contract and allow her to cut a version with Commodore Records in 1939.

Written by NYC schoolteacher Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” was the show-stopping, bone-chilling climax to Holliday’s live shows for the rest of her career.  Over 75 years later—as Jill Scott demonstrated during A & E’s “Shining A Light” concert earlier this month—it still has the power to shake an audience to its core.

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