1957 | Jazz
Spotify | Amazon
“Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck. -- For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop, here is a strange and bitter crop."
- The Lyrics were written by teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem and published in 1937, under his pseudonym Lewis Allan.
- Barney Josephson, the founder of Café Society in Greenwich Village, New York's first integrated nightclub, introduced the song to Billie Holiday.
- Columbia gave Holiday a one-session release from her contract so she could record the song because they feared backlash from releasing it themselves.
THE HOT TAKES
Will humans ever learn to stop seeing the world through an "us versus them" lens? Perhaps that's too much to ask for. Maybe a better question would be this: Will enough humans ever learn to identify the right "us" and the right "them?" Racism is an ugly thing, at times brutal isn't even suffient to describe it. But let's always remember and have the courage to share with others that it is the state that has institutionalized and given shelter to such behavior. Without the iron fist of the perpetually evil concentration of power, racism would have the opportunity to wither on the vine.
This is one of the most haunting songs I've ever heard. I remember the shock I felt when I realized what it was about. Chilling! The writer of this song, Abel Meeropol, under his pseudonym, Lewis Allan, was a white Jewish guy from New York, who was for a time a communist, and known to be extremely soft hearted. Showcased by the fact that he and his wife took in the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after they were executed for treason. A bold act in the era of McCarthy, when even their own family dared not take them in for fear of being accused of being communists. Though this was not Mr. Meeropol's first foray into resisting the evils that society allowed. The writting of this song in 1930, as you may know, was done after Meeropol saw a picture of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana. It disturbed him so much that he wrote a poem, later set it to music and sang it with his wife around venues in the city as a protest. He and his wife even performed it with black singer, Laura Duncan, at Madison Square Garden. It eventually made it's way to Billie Holiday, where it's message was heard by millions, and became the iconic classic it is today. I would ask you to consider for a moment though the era in which Mr. Meerapol, his singing companions, and then Ms. Holiday sang it. It was three decades before the 1960's and the Civil Rights Movement. A time when the minstrel shows were still making caricatures of black folks, while black artists were good enough to perform for the white folks, but not good enough to live in their society. A time when socializing outside your race could have serious consequences, and for a black man the accusation of a crime could incite a mob that might lynch you without benefit of any sort of due process. Yes, this song was not only an account of visceral and naked violence, but in that time, it was an act of defiance.
What a dark powerful song. It's also one that points to some serious weakness in our collective past. Slavery was a shit institution that contrary to what the New York Times wants you to believe actually held human civilization back by every metric imaginable. Even worse was that when it ended that social stratification didn't just up and disappear. It seems at times that we'll never be able to move into a time of equality even now. This is exceptionally disheartening to a man in love with a woman of another race to which we have a child. It terrifies me what my daughter is going to have to deal with if the race-baiters of both stripes get what they want. But this isn't really about my feelings on slavery. Its about my feelings on the idea that any man shouldn't be free by his birthright. I take the term every man very seriously and man is synonymous to human in this case. To see it any other way is preposterous.