The song “Strange Fruit” was first exposed as a poem written by Abel Meeropol who may be better recognized under his alias, Lewis Allan. “Strange Fruit” was finalized in the late 1930s, the same time that African- Americans in the South were being lynched by white supremacist groups in the days of America’s post- Abolition movement. Throughout the movement, the stress on seeing no evil and hearing no evil at this time was strongly enforced. Yet, Meeropol opened the eyes of his audience to the ugly truth about the horrors that African- Americans experienced through the Abolition.
For Billy Holiday, one of dozens of artists to perform “Strange Fruit”, this song has a deeper meaning than what the surface offers.
As an African-American, she suffered hardships through the Abolition that many could not imagine. Due to the treatment of blacks and Jim Crow laws, Holiday’s dad was denied medical entrance into a primarily white hospital, fell ill, and later died of internal bleeding.
She was part of the Abolition and the Abolition was part of her. This can be verified as soon as she sings the first words of “Strange Fruit”. The tone of her voice supports her personal connection that she shares with the song and its overall meaning of the treatment of African-Americans during the Abolition.
“Strange Fruit” is formed by three short verses that all use ironic and understated language that forces the reader to dig deeper into history and discover what this “Strange Fruit” really is. This poem follows a lyric pattern, expressing deep thoughts and emotions about the lynching in the South. An elegiac pattern can also be extracted from this poem due to its commemoration to those strange fruit that died as a direct effect of lynching. A rhyme scheme of A,A, B, B, C,C, D, D, E, E, F, F is followed allowing the steady repetition of sounds to create a taunting beat. The melody is slow and conveys a melancholy feeling that Holiday sings so powerfully to a point where it seems as if she may cry. There is an absence in her eyes, an emptiness that places Holiday in her own little world, allowing her to convey pain and hatred but at the same time sorrow and anger.
The juxtaposition of a beautiful landscape with the scene of lynching, the smell of magnolias with that of burning flesh, the blossoms more typically associated with the Southern climate with the “strange fruit”, symbolically introduces
the five senses to be analyzed. The lyrics convey a gruesome and sickening atmosphere — where we feel the rain gather and the wind suck, we see the horror of black bodies hanging from trees and their blood covering leaves, we smell the burnt flesh of the rotten corpses and the magnolias and the bodies rotting in the sun, we taste the bitterness of all the lives and strange fruit that the lynching have claimed, and we hear the crows plucking at the dead bodies’ bulging eyes. This imagery conjures the haunting power that supremacy holds and the death defying damage it can create.
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.