Appearing on Tavis Talks with host Tavis Smiley, popular singer Annie Lennox gave a long and rambling description of the Billie Holiday classic Strange Fruit, while avoiding mentioning the specific topic of the song; the lynching of African-Americans in the old south.
Lennox is currently promoting her latest release, Nostagia, covering songs made famous by Holiday, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin.
Smiley asked Lennox why she selected Strange Fruit, which describes “Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze, strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.”
Calling the song “the darkest track on the album,” Lennox explained the tune “is a protest song and it was written before the Civil Rights movement actually got on its feet, got established.”
“Because of what I’ve seen around the world, I know that this theme, this subject of violence and bigotry, hatred, violent acts of mankind against ourselves. This is a theme. It’s a human theme that has gone on for time immemorial. It’s expressed in all kinds of different ways, whether it be racism, whether it be domestic violence, whether it be warfare, or a terrorist act, or simply one person attacking another person in a separate incident,” Lennox explained. “So a song like this, if I were to do a version of ‘Strange Fruit,’ I’d give the song honor and respect and I try to bring it back out into the world again and get an opportunity to talk about the subjects behind the songs as well.”
Strange Fruit is based upon the poem Bitter Fruit, written by Bronx native Abel Meeropol and published in 1937 in New York Teacher Magazine. Meeropol eventually set the words to music.
Holiday recorded the song in 1939 for Commodore Records after her own label, Columbia, refused to release it fearing reaction in the south. It became Holliday’s best selling record.
Pressed by Smiley to describe what she hears when Billie Holiday sings the song, Lennox once again avoided mentioning the lynching, instead referencing Holiday’s life and addiction problems
Well, it’s hard to talk about, huh? There is a woman that suffered so much in so many ways from her circumstance, from the situation of being many things, from being a woman, from being a woman of color, from addiction, from an upbringing that was extremely dysfunctional, and it ended badly, ” she said. “And you see this happening with artists, and female artists very frequently, and you ask, “Why? Why did this beautiful woman self-destruct in the end?” What were the things that caused her to disappear tragically at really quite an early age—she was just in her 40’s? I’ve looked at some YouTube clips and I’ve looked at her face and, you know…wondered what happened.”
Lennox continued on saying she would she wished she could meet Holiday and talk about “female empowerment” before laughingly saying they could also talk about “lipstick” and “clothes.”
“If she was here now, we would have a lot in common, there would be a lot of things that we could talk about…Like female empowerment, women’s rights, bigotry, racism. What is it? What? You know there’s so many things we could talk about, we could talk about lipstick, too. We could talk about clothes,” she explained. “But we could talk about the things that are still going on in this day and age that haven’t changed one iota and the sort of pain that I feel because I would like to see a world that could transform. We have so many resources, and when we dialogue, we have an opportunity to make good, positive things happen, but we are in a world of madness and sometimes despair”
Watch the video below from Tavis Talks, first featured on Gawker:
Watch video below of Annie Lennox performing Strange Fruit: