Analysis of the Song 'Strange Fruit' by Billie Holiday

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The haunting melody and poignant lyrics of "Strange Fruit" make it one of Billie Holiday’s most memorable and impactful songs. Originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish teacher from New York, this song became an anthem against racism and the lynching of African Americans in the United States. In this analysis of the song "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday, the historical context, lyrical content, and Holiday's emotional delivery will be examined.

Historical Context

"Strange Fruit" was released in 1939, a time when segregation and racial violence, including public lynchings, were rampant in the United States, particularly in the South. The song served as a stark condemnation of America's dark history of racial violence, making visible the emotional and physical terror inflicted upon Black communities.

Lyrical Content

The lyrics of "Strange Fruit" are stark and haunting, with the 'strange fruit' of the title referring metaphorically to the bodies of African Americans hanging from trees after being lynched. This imagery is powerful and unsettling, forcing listeners to confront the brutality of these acts. The song does not shy away from detailing the grotesque scenes of “black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze” and the “bulging eyes and the twisted mouth” of the victims, evoking both visual and emotional response.

Billie Holiday's Emotional Delivery

One of the most striking aspects of this song is Billie Holiday's delivery. Her voice, laden with pain and sadness, carries the weight of the lyrics. Holiday's raw and soulful rendition brings the grim images in the song to life, making it a visceral reminder of the dehumanizing atrocities inflicted upon Black Americans.

The Song as a Form of Protest

"Strange Fruit" is more than a song; it is a form of protest. In a time when speaking out against racial injustice was fraught with danger, Holiday’s decision to record and perform this song was a bold act of resistance. It brought the horrors of lynching out of the shadows and into the public consciousness, challenging society to face this grim aspect of American life.

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Controversy and Impact

Given its explicit condemnation of racial violence, "Strange Fruit" was a highly controversial song. It faced censorship and was banned from various radio stations. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the song became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, illustrating the power of music as a force for social change.

Legacy of the Song

The legacy of "Strange Fruit" is profound. It is often cited as one of the earliest examples of a politically engaged song and has been covered by various artists over the years, each bringing their unique interpretation but maintaining the song's potent message. It has been acknowledged by many institutions as one of the most important songs of the 20th century, underlining its lasting significance.


In conclusion, the analysis of the song "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday reveals a powerful and unflinching musical condemnation of America’s history of racial violence. With its haunting lyrics and Holiday’s raw, emotional delivery, the song serves as a poignant reminder of the atrocities inflicted upon Black Americans. Despite the controversy it sparked at the time of its release, "Strange Fruit" endures as a significant anthem for civil rights and a stark call for societal reflection and change.

Works Cited

Meeropol, Abel. "Strange Fruit." 1937.

Holiday, Billie, and Arthur Herzog Jr. "God Bless the Child." 1941.

Margolick, David. "Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights." Running Press, 2000.

Clarke, Donald. "Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon." Viking, 1994.

Southern, Eileen. "The Music of Black Americans: A History." W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

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