In the wake of several celebrities refusing to perform at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, one British singer will do so — on one condition.
In response to the Trump transition team asking her to perform, Rebecca Ferguson said she will sing at the inauguration only if she can perform “a song that was blacklisted in the United States for being too controversial.”
Ferguson revealed in a Twitter message which song she demanded she sing.
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. 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.
Strange Fruit was originally a poem written by Abel Meerpol in 1937 in response to a photo he saw of a lynching. The victims in the photo, Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, were denied a trial concerning rape and murder because a crowd overwhelmed their guards and lynched them in Marion County, Indiana on Aug. 7, 1930.
Horrified, the Jewish New Yorker and socialist wrote the poem under the pseudonym “Lewis Allen” in 1937.
In the poem, lynching is not mentioned directly, but Meerpol makes strong allusions to it in verses such as “Southern trees” having “blood on their leaves.”
The poem was transformed into a song and was performed by blues singer Billie Holliday in 1939. Meerpol heard her perform and was transfixed.
“She gave a startling, most dramatic and effective interpretation of the song which could jolt the audience out of its complacency anywhere,” Meerpol was quoted as saying in the book With Billie: A New Look at the Unforgettable Lady Day. “This was exactly what I wanted the song to do and why I wrote it. Billie Holiday’s styling fulfilled the bitterness and the shocking quality I had hoped the song would have.”
The song was Holliday’s biggest seller. But it was banned for many years by Southern radio stations.
Holliday’s rendition of the song won a Grammy in 1978. It has since been performed by Annie Lennox and Sting.
In 1999, Time cited it as Best Song of the Century. In 2002, the Library of Congress chose Strange Fruit as worthy to be added to the National Recording Registry.
There has not yet been a response to Ferguson’s mandate from the Trump transition team.
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