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The Tangled History of "Strange Fruit": Background information when reading Bitter Crop

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Bitter Crop

The Heartache and Triumph of Billie Holiday's Last Year

by Paul Alexander

Bitter Crop by Paul Alexander X
Bitter Crop by Paul Alexander
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  • Published:
    Feb 2024, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

The Tangled History of "Strange Fruit"

This article relates to Bitter Crop

In February 1959, Billie Holiday sang the anti-lynching song she popularized, "Strange Fruit," on the London television show Chelsea at Nine. She was battling liver disease because of a prodigious vodka and gin addiction. It was rare for Billie to sing "Strange Fruit" when she was this physically fragile.

"She just needed a reason to sing it," notes journalist Paul Alexander, author of Bitter Crop: The Heartache and Triumph of Billie Holiday's Last Year.

As Billie was known to do, she exaggerated the facts that night, telling the London audience it was a song written just for her. It wasn't.

"Strange Fruit" began as a poem titled "Bitter Fruit." It was written by a Russian Jew named Abel Meeropol, a Harvard University alum who taught high-school English in the Bronx. Meeropol was a member of the Communist Party beginning in 1932 and a writer whose pen name was Lewis Allan, taken from the names of his stillborn children. Like many communists, Meeropol believed ...

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