It’s May/June in 2020. Across the world, after a few months of lockdown or confinement, people have been demonstrating against violence, everyday disproportionate violence by the Police against Black people.
What happened to Billie Holiday, the Jazz Diva who sang (owned?) « Strange Fruit », can be understood through the same lense. A drug addict, Holiday died in hospital harassed by Harry Anslinger, then the first commissioner for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, considered an extreme racist (white supremacist) at the time (1930’s).
“It reminds me of how Pop died,” wrote Billie Holiday in her autobiography. “But I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died, the things that killed him are still happening in the South.” (Her father died at 39 after being denied medical treatment at a Texas “whites only” hospital).
At the time, the song’s lyrics were extremely shocking to some members of Holiday’s mostly white audiences…
Southern trees bear strange fruitBlood on the leaves and blood at the rootBlack bodies swinging in the southern breezeStrange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Strange Fruit is « the first significant protest in words and music, the first significant cry against racism. »
« Sugar Chile » Robinson was born Frank Isaac Robinson in 1938 in Detroit. A child prodigy at the age of two, he worked with Lionel Hampton and Frankie Carle (both master pianists themselves) and performed for President Truman at age seven.
He appeared in the movie « No Leave, No Love » and scored two R&B hits in 1949, including « Caldonia ».
He stopped recording in 1952 to concentrate on academics.