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Billie Holiday's Song ‘Strange Fruit’ and Its Impact on Society

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Music has influenced people for centuries and keeps on doing so today. Musicians have an excellent way of expressing their feelings, thoughts and opinions in their music. Because of this wonderful talent, musicians can impact their listener’s feelings, thoughts, and opinions. A great example of opinions being expressed through music is the song ‘Strange Fruit’ (1939) by Billie Holiday. The song was produced at a time that was dangerous for black people in America and sheds light on a significant issue which had been around for decades – racism.

‘Strange Fruit’ was sung by Billie Holiday, who was an American jazz singer. However, ‘Strange Fruit’ was initially written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher. “I wrote ‘Strange Fruit’ because I hate lynching, and I hate injustice, and I hate the people who perpetuate it”, Meeropol said in 1971. The practice of lynching is when a group of people kill an individual for an alleged offence without some sort of legal trial or evidence to support the allegation. When ‘Strange Fruit’ was produced, America was an extremely segregated country. America was, at this point in time, racially segregated by law. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act abolished segregation in public places. However, before this time, black individuals were treated differently compared to white individuals. Racism was an ongoing issue in America, and black individuals were constantly murdered for crimes they hadn’t committed. Usually, accusations would arise against black individuals, as lynching was a type of racial terrorism used during this era. However, often times, these accusations were false, meaning that innocent people would be killed based off of their skin color. Lynching took place in the Southern states of America 79% percent of the time.

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Billie’s ‘Strange Fruit’ is said to be a protest song, meaning that it is a song which has had an impact on social structures and issues. ‘Strange Fruit’ is claimed to symbolize racism and the brutality of lynching in the southern states of America. In Holiday’s song, many different phrases relating to the practice and aftermath of lynching are mentioned. The song is composed of three verses, each containing four phrases. The first verse begins with four phrases, two of which are “Southern trees bearing strange fruit” and “black bodies swinging in the southern breeze”. Holiday is referring to the fact that many black people in South America were hung (lynched) on trees, and the phrase ‘strange fruit’ symbolizes the bodies of the people who were killed. The latter verse refers to the aftermath of the dead bodies decomposing. These bodies were eaten by birds, dried out by the sun and blown away in the wind, therefore becoming a ‘bitter crop’.

‘Strange Fruit’ has had an incredible impact in America (and other parts of the world, for that matter), so much so that it was named the song of the century by Time magazine in 1999. Everybody could understand what the explicit song was referring to, which helped to begin the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement was a movement in the United States that ended racial segregation and discrimination. Most of the perpetrators who took part in lynchings were not punished. Since dozens to hundreds of people often had a part in the killing, it was supposedly difficult to punish everyone. However, in the rare cases where a punishment was handed out, it would often be the result of committing a minor crime, such as rioting or arson. The actual murder of the black individual was often neglected in the court room, and the accused were rarely penalized by law. Anti-lynching campaigners sent the song, ‘Strange Fruit’, to congressmen, in order to appeal to their humanity and persuade them to help eradicate the practice of lynching. Finally, in 2018, lynching became a federal crime. ‘Strange Fruit’ has had an impact on society and changed it for the better. Disturbing imagery flowed through listeners heads whilst hearing the song, giving them the courage, they needed to fight for justice. Racism is still an issue in today’s society, meaning that the song is still relevant to a certain degree. Since lynching isn’t an ongoing issue today, ‘Strange Fruit’ can symbolize racism in a metaphorical sense.

Throughout centuries societal issues, like racial discrimination, have improved drastically. Protest songs like Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ have impacted society for the better and given people the courage they needed to stand up for their rights. As previously stated, songs can have a great impact on society, with ‘Strange Fruit’ being an exceptional example.

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Billie Holiday’s Song ‘Strange Fruit’ and Its Impact on Society. (2023, September 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Billie Holiday’s Song ‘Strange Fruit’ and Its Impact on Society.” Edubirdie, 08 Sept. 2023,
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