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Poetry Hound Male, 60, United States (5/6/2005 9:42:00 AM)

Regarding African-American poetry, I've always been quite moved by 'Strange Fruit, ' recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. Okay, technically it's a lyric, not a poem. But it has the same power as a good poem, enhanced by Billie Holiday's voice. Anyway, I went looking for some background on the song, and this is really interesting. Although it was recently honored at a celebration of music by black composers at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and although Khallil Abdul Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan's notoriously anti-Semitic disciple, has quoted it in speeches assailing American racism, both Muhammad and the Virginia museum were unaware, apparently, that the song was written by a white Jewish schoolteacher from New York City - Abel Meeropol, who wrote under the pen name 'Lewis Allan.'

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.

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  • Rookie Joseph Daly (11/11/2005 1:07:00 PM) Post reply
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    I'm glad that you made the point about Abel Meeropol being a white Jew, if memory serves me right, he was also a member of the Communist Party.

    I do remember coming across the poem many years ago and I am sure that nothing was changed in it. Setting poetry to music is nothing new, many composers, most notable, Schubert, set verse to lieder, even today composer do the same thing (Check out Elliot Carter's 'A Mirror on which to dwell') .

    Anyhow Poetry Hound thanks for your piece. I have started a bit of a rumpus (unintentionally) on the forum over lyrics - poetry already.

    Somebody did mention about poems being memorable if they could be put to music, I think they do have a point. In the US at present there are two composers who do this successfully, the aformentioned Elliot Carter and Ned Rorem.

    Anyhow thanks for reminding me of Strange Fruit.

    Denis Joe


    The Irony of Strange Fruit is that more than 20 years after Billie Holiday recorded it, Nina Simone also also brought it into her repetoire and was severely criticed and abused for doing so.

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