It’s a New Year.
The U.S. presidential inauguration nears and the line of participants continues to narrow.
British singer Rebecca Ferguson has taken her invitation a step further and today posted she would “graciously accept” Trump’s request to perform at the Jan. 20 inauguration, but only if she can perform “Strange Fruit.”
“Strange Fruit” is a poem by Abel Meeropol in 1937 and was performed by Billie Holiday in 1939. The melancholy song protests the lynchings of black people by whites and the scourge of racism in America, which is ongoing.
Holiday’s version is haunting, disturbing and explicit. The uneven melody and pointed lyrics, of stinking bodies hanging in the trees “for the wind to suck” are among the most brutal lyrics in American music.
“Pastoral scene of the gallant South/the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth/scent of magnolias, clean and fresh/then the sudden smell of burning flesh” reads part of the song.
It’s been covered numerous times over the years. Nina Simone’s performance gives the song a wrenched elegance. Jeff Buckley’s acoustic version wanders almost aimlessly, and wallows in the melody. But Holiday’s song grips the hardest and doesn’t let go.
There’s a pretty good chance Ferguson won’t get the chance to perform the song in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20, but if her statement generates renewed discussion in the song and its explicit ties to America’s dark history, then she’s done her job.