“Strange Fruit”, performed by Billie Holiday, is commonly tied to a photograph taken by Lawrence Beitler of a lynching in Marion, Indiana on August 7, 1930. Billie Holiday first performed the song in a night club, Cafe Society in New York in 1939. (Margolick) After gaining widespread popularity, Holiday recorded the song and it was released later that year. (Margolick) Strange Fruit became an anthem for the anti-lynching movement.
History of a Song
“Strange Fruit” began as a poem written by a Jewish school teacher, Abel Meeropol. Meeropol wrote under a different name, Lewis Allen. (Margolick) The poem was published to the New York Teacher and Marxist journal The New Massesinin 1936.(Shmoop) Meeropol asked others to make the poem a song, after repeated failed attempts, Meeropol eventually set his poem to music himself. (Radio Diaris) His wife, Laura Duncan was the first to perform the song. (Margolick) The most notable performance by Duncan was at Madison Square Garden. It was at Madison Square Garden where Billie Holiday’s director heard the song and asked her to sing it at the night club she performed at. (Margolick) She performed at Cafe Society three nights a week. (Radio Diaries) She began to sing the song, and it soon became the closing act for Billie Holiday’s set. (Margolick) The first time she sang the song, she recalled in her autobiography In her autobiography, "There wasn't even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began clapping nervously. Then suddenly everyone was clapping." (Shmoop) The song became known to immediately silence a crowd. It was staged with only a single spotlight on Billie Holiday's face.(Margolick) The song rapidly gained popularity and soon a recorded version was needed. So in April 1939, Holiday and her band took four hours to record "Strange Fruit." (Margolick) By July, the song had reached number 16 on the charts. (Radio Diaries) The song has continued to live on
The photograph taken by Lawrence Beiter has become repeatedly tied to “Strange Fruit.” The Beitler photograph is of two black men lynched in Marion, Indiana. This picture had become the face of lynching. It is a theory that the writer of “Strange Fruit”, Abel Meeropol, was inspired to write the poem once he saw the famous photograph by Lawrence Beitler. (Radio Diaries) There is no evidence that this theory is true, but it is possible since the photo was so widely popular and was circulated nationwide. (Madison) "I wrote 'Strange Fruit because I hate lynching and I hate injustice and I hate the people who perpetuate it," Meeropol stated.