Strange Fruit

Aber Meeropol, 1937

What is lynching? When and where did the practice of lynching peak in the United States? When did the federal government pass anti-lynching legislation?

What is the "strange fruit" of the song? Where is it found?

The second stanza juxtaposes popular romanticized imagery of the South (pastoral, gallant, magnolias sweet and fresh) with imagery of lynching. What do these lyrics express about racial disparities in the United States?

In the song, what is the fate of the Black bodies? What does this say about how Meeropol saw African Americans as viewed by whites?

Why do you think this song was more popular later in the twentieth century than it was when it was first written?

"Strange Fruit" recorded by Billie Holiday on Billie Holiday, Commodore Records, © 1957. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

For more information on Billie Holiday, visit her official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

Aber Meeropol (1903–86) was an American writer, teacher, songwriter, and social activist who published under the pseudonym Lewis Allan.

Meeropol began his career as an English teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City. In 1929 he published his first collection of poetry, which expressed his strong leftist political beliefs, and he joined the Communist Party in the early 1930s. In 1945 he gave up teaching and moved to Hollywood, where he temporarily wrote for Columbia and MGM Studios. In 1951 he returned to New York and continued to work as a writer. It was at this time that he and his wife, Anne, adopted two children. The children's parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, had been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of the USSR and were executed.

Meeropol often provided lyrics for activist composers, such as Earl Robinson and Elie Siegmeister. He was also active in the Teachers Union and wrote songs for the organization. Meeropol's primary interest was in political commentary, so he devoted much of his time to writing songs about political figures and events. Many of these songs were included in satirical musical revues.

The original article from the Indianapolis Star about the lynching of Shipp and Smith.

Meeropol claimed that "Strange Fruit," his best-known song, was inspired by a photograph of a lynching. (It is sometimes said to be Lawrence Beitler's photograph of the hanging of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana, in 1930.) Meeropol's poem was published in a Teachers Union publication as "Bitter Fruit" in 1937, and he set it to music sometime in late 1938. It was one of the first songs to forthrightly confront the issue of lynching.

"Strange Fruit" will forever be associated with singer Billie Holiday, who recorded it in 1939. She premiered the song in Greenwich Village, New York City, at Café Society, the first integrated nightclub. Holiday had difficulties finding a label that would record it, and she was hesitant about singing it in places where she feared it would not be well received. It initially received little attention from the media and was rarely played on the radio, but since then it has been hailed as the first song of the Civil Rights Movement.




Creative Commons License
Voices Across Time is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at