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On a Billie Holiday song (revision of an old one)

Frank E Gibbard

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Frank E Gibbard

A little background from online research


In 1937 Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from New York, saw a photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. Meeropol later recalled how the photograph "haunted me for days" and inspired the writing of the poem, Strange Fruit.A little background from online research - after seeing Billie Holiday perform at the club, Café Society, in New York, Meeropol showed her the poem. Holiday liked it and after working on it with Sonny White turned the poem into the song, Strange Fruit. Meeropol remained active in the American Communist Party and after the execution of Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg he adopted their two sons. He taught at the De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx for 27 years, but continued to write songs, including the Frank Sinatra hit, The House I Live In.


Here is a tribute to the original poem I first heard as a song.





When I heard the haunting: "Strange Fruit"

I was bitterly moved by the power of song;

Lyrics forensically delineate a rotten route

Some men took to commit a terrible wrong.

Bent to his arch purpose its bower of word,

Drew a marksman's bead on a swinish herd;

Brave mutton heads hidden in a whited sheet

America's "worst" thinking to be a super elite.

It struck straight and true with an arrow's zing

When the sublime Miss Holiday began to sing.

What white doesn't blanche now to face up to,

What evil harm to his fellow man a man can do?

Edited by Frank E Gibbard
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Good man yourself, Frank!! The best thing, obviously, is to listen to the song. It didn't go down well in the US at the time, no wonder, since FDR and the government wouldn't support an anti-lynching law (Southern Democrats were Chairmen of key committees in Congress) and the South was adamantly segregationist. They'd lost the war -- the American Civil War -- but won the peace in terms of maintaining an apartheid regime. We learn this term from South Africa who learned it from America. So, too, did Australia who opposed the racial equality proposal at the Versailles Treaty at the close of World War One to maintain a White Australia. Too bad about the kangaroos, not to mention the ... Abos. None of us can really hold our heads too high. We get slightly better as time goes on, still climbing the sandy mountains of ingrained prejudice.

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Excellent tribute poem, Frank. I watched the linked video (since removed) and liked it a lot. I was also prompted to find the original poem and found it in this Wiki link. Thanks for raising awareness, Frank.



Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Frank E Gibbard

Your comment Brendan duly noted with its pertinent historical detail of the "black" record of the South, thanks for reading and commenting.

Thanks Tony for the link, I only removed the other one on later reflection because it is so graphic - the wording, possibly too for some. Frank

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Nicely done Frank. Billie Holiday is one of many people, not just entertainers, who have influenced civil rights. I've been a life-long fan of hers and recall hearing this song many times during the turbulence of the 60's. Your poem is an apt prompt to look back at some of the worst traits of human behaviour and remember them. Geoff.

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