British singer Rebecca Ferguson has agreed to sing at the Donald Trump inauguration, but only if she is able to perform a powerful song about lynching. Granted the almost-president is having trouble finding people to perform, but whether he will negotiate this deal is up in the air.
On her Twitter page, the singer said that she had indeed been invited to perform. But she responded with this caveat:
‘I’ve been asked and this is my answer. If you allow me to sing “strange fruit” a song that has huge historical importance, a song that was blacklisted in the United States for being too controversial.’
She said that the song is about all the “disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States:”
‘A song that speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States. A song that is a reminder of how love is the only thing that will conquer all the hatred in this world, then I will graciously accept your invitation and see you in Washington. Best Rebecca X’
In the late 1930’s, New York City’s poet and social activist Abel Meeropol pulled his two passions together:
‘[He] Was very disturbed at the continuation of racism in America, and seeing a photograph of a lynching sort of put him over the edge.’
The photograph haunted Meeropol. He wrote a poem of protest, then set it to music. The composer played it for a New York nightclub owner, who passed it on to iconic singer Billie Holiday.
Holiday sang “Strange Fruit” too, as a protest against the “haunting …inhumanity of racism.” Millions of people heard Holiday’s version. Oddly enough, the lyrics of the poem and song never mention the word “lynching.” But the metaphor shows ugly under a bright light:
‘Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
‘Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
‘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 a tree to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop.’
So far, the Trump transition team has not responded to Ferguson’s request.
Watch Billie Holiday perform her version of the song in the video below:
Featured Image: Getty Images/John Phillips.