On February 20th I was commissioned by HULU and Talent House to make an artwork inspired by the movie "The U.S Vs Billie Holiday"
I'm glad and honoured to have been part of this. Through the making of this artwork I got to learn what the song Strange Fruit is about, that it was originally written by a communist Jewish teacher after he came across a 1930 photo that captured the lynching of two Black men in Indiana. The visceral image haunted him for days and prompted him to put pen to paper.
After he published "Strange Fruit" in a teachers union publication, Meeropol composed it into a song and passed it onto a nightclub owner, who then introduced it to Holiday.
When Holiday heard the lyrics, she was deeply moved by them — not only because she was a Black American but also because the song reminded her of her father, who died at 39 from a fatal lung disorder, after being turned away from a hospital because he was a Black man.
Because of the painful memories it conjured, Holiday didn't enjoy performing "Strange Fruit," but knew she had to. “It reminds me of how Pop died,” she said of the song in her autobiography. “But I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it, but because 20 years after Pop died, the things that killed him are still happening in the South.”
The protest anthem became Holiday's downfall
While civil rights activists and Black America embraced "Strange Fruit," the nightclub scene, which was primarily composed of white patrons, had mixed reactions. At witnessing Holiday's performance, audience members would applaud until their hands hurt, while those less sympathetic would bitterly walk out the door.
As for today Strange fruit was declared song of the century and Andra Day who played Billie Holiday in "The U.S vs Billie Holiday" won a Golden Globe award for Best actress- Motion picture Drama 2021.