Book cover, 15k STRANGE FRUIT - Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights

by: David Margolick
publisher: Running Press
ISBN number: 0-7624-0667-1


It's been called a declaration of war.
The beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
One of ten songs that changed the world.

   Yet the history of "Strange Fruit" - the controversial ballad that became Billie Holiday's signature tune - is even more fascinating than the song itself. Within these pages, Vanity Fair contributing editor David Margolick offers an extraordinary biography of "Strange Fruit" - from its genesis at the hand of Abel Meeropol (better known for later adopting the two sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg) to its popularization by Billie Holiday in nightclubs like New York's Café Society to its enduring power and appeal today.

   The song's lyrics describe a lynched black man hanging from a poplar tree ("Strange trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root..."). In 1939, its performance sparked controversy (and sometimes violence) wherever Billie Holiday went. Not until sixteen years later did Rosa Parks refuse to yield her seat on a Mongomery, Alabama bus. It was twenty-five years before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led his famous march on Washington. Yet "Strange Fruit" lived on, and Margolick chronicles its effect on those experienced it firsthand: musicians, artists, journalists, intellectuals, students, budding activists, even the waitresses and bartenders who worked the clubs.

   In the more than sixty years since its 1939 debut at Café Society, the legendary Greenwich Village nightclub, "Strange Fruit" has been performed by everyone from Nina Simone and Cassandra Wilson to Tori Amos, Sting, and UB40. Jazz lovers, American history buffs, fans of Billie Holiday, and anyone who cares about racial justice will enjoy Strange Fruit - the story of a song that foretold a movement, and the lady who dared to sing it.

David Margolick is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. Prior to that, he was the National Legal Affairs Editor for the New York Times, where he wrote "At the Bar," a popular weekly legal column, and was nominated four times for the Pulitzer Prize.

   He has written two prior books: Undue Influence: The Epic Battle for the Johnson & Johnson Fortune and At The Bar: The Passions and Peccadillos of American Lawyers.

Read also the article, as published in Vanity Fair, that started the book!

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