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Playing for Change, Songs Around the World

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Between 1882 and 1968, mobs lynched 4,743 people in a campaign of racist terror across the United States. Over 70 percent of the victims were African Americans.

“Strange Fruit” is a anti-racist protest song written by Abel Meeropol and most famously performed and recorded by Billie Holiday.

Meeropol, a Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx, originally wrote “Strange Fruit” as a poem about the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana, in 1930. He published the poem under the name Lewis Allan in 1936 in The New York Teacher, and later set “Strange Fruit” to music.

The song gained success as a protest song in and around New York and became a regular part of Billie Holiday’s live performances. Her label, Columbia, refused to record the song. Instead, Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record “Strange Fruit” with Vocalion Records. Over time, it became Holiday’s biggest seller.

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