During their parents’ imprisonment, the boys lived with their grandparents, spent a brief period in an orphanage, and finally were sent out of New York City to the home of family friends in Toms River, New Jersey. Thankfully though Abel Meeropol, a American songwriter, took the poem and turned it into something very distinguished. The symbolic tree has blood on the leaves and in its root. Meeropol later recalled how the photograph "haunted me for days" and inspired the writing of the poem, Strange Fruit. [20] Holiday's 1939 version of the song was included in the National Recording Registry on January 27, 2003. "Strange Fruit: the first great protest song", Bettye LaVette Unleashes Cover of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, "Video: Listen To Edward W. Hardy's Haunting String Quartet Arrangement Of 'Strange Fruit'", "Strange Fruit: The most shocking song of all time", "Music Is Love! Abel and Anne Meeropol deciding to adopt the sons of the Rosenbergs, and their being in a position to actually do so, was one of those convergences so poetic it doesn’t seem real. First performed by Meeropol's wife and their friends in social contexts,[10] his protest song gained a certain success in and around New York. In an article written by BBC Meeropol is quoted saying, “I wrote Strange Fruit because I hate lynching, and I hate injustice, and I hate the people who perpetuate it.” It was here that a news bulletin interrupting their Yankees game informed them of the hour of their parents’ impending execution. Their sons, Robert and Michael, were three and seven when their parents were arrested in 1950 after being accused of sharing nuclear secrets with the Soviets. In our current moment of widespread helplessness, when narrativizing our past would be a therapeutic and politically expedient practice, left-wing history is instead being rewritten by liberals like Aaron Sorkin. Leftist solidarity was a theme that ran throughout Abel’s songwriting career and political life. Perhaps we can use the time alone to think collectively, to reflect together on how we might reconstruct the public realm of our cities. Transcript: James Baldwin’s ‘Little Houses’ and Abel Meeropol’s ‘Strange Fruit’ Paul Gilroy: My name is Paul Gilroy, I'm the Director of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the study of Racism and Racialisation at University College London. “Abel was no turn-the-other-cheek liberal,” said Robert Meeropol. [23] Rene Marie's rendition was coupled with Confederate anthem "Dixie", making for an "uncomfortable juxtaposition", according to Pellegrinelli. 3 The photograph so haunted Meeropol that he wrote a poem about it entitled "Bitter Fruit," published in 1937 in The New York Teacher, the journal of the teachers union. Composed in 1937 by left-wing New York City school teacher, poet and songwriter Meeropol, it was a visceral call to action in a time when people of conscience fought for anti-lynching legislation. It is this part of the story, the part about the left showing deep care for their own, that I might seize on for my imaginary prestige TV show. It was through the union that they came to know teacher and Party member, Alice Citron. Strange Fruit If you listen carefully to the lyrics of Billy Holiday's version of the Abel Meeropol song, "Strange Fruit, " you will realise it is a protest song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States.Black victims are portrayed as "strange fruit, " as their dead bodies hang from trees, rotting in the sun, swaying to and fro in the wind, and being eaten by crows. It covers a range of contemporary themes: children separated from parents, the political persecution of dissidents, and social justice warriors doing battle against a racist, xenophobic, increasingly fascistic America. It’s easier to think of the story as a Coen Brothers film (I’m seeing John Turturro and Frances McDormand cast as the Meeropols) than as history. Abel Meeropol's biography and life story. The left would go crazy over Jewish American dissidents Abel and Anne Meeropol if they were alive today. The poem was meant to be a critique of the real-life lynching of two African-American men by a mob of white people who were never trialed or convicted for their acts as a group. Many people know that the man who wrote the song was inspired by a photograph of a lynching. Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and the adoptive son of "Strange Fruit” composer Abel Meeropol. I think that misses the truth. For that movement to grow, however, it needs to be able to tell its stories to the uninitiated. Robert Meeropol believes that this is exactly how Abel intended the song to be used. “A lot of what he wrote was biting satire and had a nasty edge to it. Their tale is a radical epic so poignant that one wonders where the 10-part miniseries is. Strange Fruit. Ecosystem Destruction Fueled the Pandemic. In 1936, Abel Meeropol, a Jewish American public high school teacher in the Bronx, NY, saw a photograph of the lynching of two African American teenagers, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. It is also not an impossible one, as the existence of independent left media (like this magazine) proves. [9] During the musical introduction to the song, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer. It was an attack on the perpetrators of lynching.”. Abel was a public school English teacher (he taught a young James Baldwin at Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in the early 1940s) who gave half his salary to the Communist Party. Meeropol is the adopted son of a Jewish schoolteacher, Abel Meeropol, who saw one of these postcards in the 1930s and was prompted to write the song Strange Fruit - … He wrote "Strange Fruit" (1937), which was recorded by Billie Holiday. To acknowledge this fact is to acknowledge the need for ambitious left-wing storytelling that can act as a counternarrative. I was new to the left, having joined DSA after volunteering for Bernie Sanders in 2016. The point of ‘Strange Fruit’ was that it was an attack song. [6][7][8] In the poem, Meeropol expressed his horror at lynchings, inspired by Lawrence Beitler's photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. Hardy. [2] The song has been called "a declaration of war" and "the beginning of the civil rights movement". It was a little reward for having the faith in humanity that had brought me to the left in the first place. “Strange Fruit” is a poem written by American-Jewish songwriter and poet Abel Meeropol in 1937, and was famously covered and recorded by Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan) in … On the recording, Holiday starts singing after 70 seconds. [23] Journalist Lara Pellegrinelli wrote that Jeff Buckley while singing it "seems to meditate on the meaning of humanity the way Walt Whitman did, considering all of its glorious and horrifying possibilities". The Party at the time was a hotbed of creative activity. Robert and Michael were raised in a loving, quirky, left-wing home. Crowdsourcing funds for left-wing art won’t be an easy task either. For the rest of us, the saga of the songwriter and the sons of the murdered “spies” seems like a secret history, a potshard buried beneath the sand that speaks of a whole fallen civilization. [16] Holiday sang "Strange Fruit" for him a cappella, and moved him to tears. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. It was also what enabled him and Anne to adopt the sons of the Rosenbergs. Under constant threat of persecution, the New York City left was necessarily close knit. Meeropol, his wife, and black vocalist Laura Duncan performed it at Madison Square Garden. When challenged, Holiday—whose autobiography had been ghostwritten by William Dufty—claimed, "I ain't never read that book."[19]. The Bernie Sanders campaigns understood that. To be sure, rebuilding those links in the chain of memory and teasing out the secrets of the American left won’t be an easy task. It was an attack on the perpetrators of lynching.” It was also in this period that Abel Meeropol wrote the poem, “Beloved Comrade.” Pollution Makes It Worse. Perhaps you already know what the Du Bois’, the Meeropols, and the Rosenbergs all had in common. It needs to be able to frame those stories for widespread consumption. I first learned the Meeropols’ story in 2018 when, as a member of Sing in Solidarity, I was taught to sing “Beloved Comrade” for a memorial to Heather Heyer—the young woman murdered in the Charlottesville terror attack in 2017. Robert Meeropol suspects that Abel and Anne only quit the Party in order to adopt him and his brother. The Meeropol boys today are in their 70s. "Strange Fruit" originated as a poem written by Jewish-American writer, teacher and songwriter Abel Meeropol, under his pseudonym Lewis Allan, as a protest against lynchings. [9] It was recorded on April 20, 1939. A Land Grant in Maine: The Gift That’s Been Giving Since 1767, Let’s Get Serious About Inequality and Socialism, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. He wrote songs for left-wing reviews that were supported by or in the orbit of the Party. I think that misses the truth. Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” (1939) “Strange Fruit” was written by Abel Meeropol, a white English teacher from New York City, as a protest against the horrors of lynching. Directed by Joel Katz. (1) Abel Meeropol, Strange Fruit (1939) 50+ videos Play all Mix - Strange Fruit by Abel Meeropol YouTube The Negro Speaks of Rivers poem by Langston Hughes music by Margaret Bonds - Duration: 4:07. They were the famous sons of communist spies. The left, however, is currently small (relatively speaking) and neoliberal cultural hegemony isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. [14] Because of the power of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday's face; and there would be no encore. The house belongs to Black socialist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Lynching was a practice that involved mob-style execution without trial, most often by hanging, and almost exclusively of … “We were actually seized by New York City police and sent to an orphanage. But there was only so much protection a network of friends could provide each other. Emanuel Hirsch Bloch, the Rosenbergs’ lawyer and a renowned left-wing defense attorney who had defended numerous people accused of communist sympathies, acted temporarily as their guardian. Then again, a tale involving judicial executions on fake charges of espionage and the heroism of Jewish and Black radicals probably wouldn’t get the prestige TV greenlight. Robert Meeropol remembers Malvina Reynolds singing “Little Boxes” on their living room sofa. It protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees. Abel Meeropol (February 10, 1903 – October 29, 1986) was an American songwriter and poet whose works were published under his pseudonym, Lewis Allan. People who grew up on the American left, and especially the Jewish American left, might feel a flicker of recognition at the mention of their birth names. Other reports say that Robert Gordon, who was directing Billie Holiday's show at Café Society, heard the song at Madison Square Garden and introduced it to her. Before Sorkin produces his take on the Rosenbergs, and we have to endure a walk and talk between Roy Cohn and Joseph McCarthy, I think it’s time to start sharing our own history. I think that misses the truth. The point of ‘Strange Fruit’ was that it was an attack song. I actually wouldn’t approach the trial or the appeals much at all. This material has been combed over in countless books and articles. Meeropol was a member of the American Communist Party, but would later quit. We dropped from public sight and within a couple of years our names were changed to Meeropol.”. The song has been covered by numerous artists, including Nina Simone, UB40, Jeff Buckley, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robert Wyatt, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Tel: 212-691-2555. The tragic effect gets embodiment in the poem by the use of Meeropol’s bitter irony. I guess it was a pretty exciting and rich environment for a young kid growing up.” His parents were forever running off to rehearsals and performances of left-wing concerts. Southern trees bear a strange fruit, The man behind "Strange Fruit" is New York City's Abel Meeropol, and he really has two stories. It was written by Abel Meeropol (1903-1986), a teacher, poet and songwriter, who published under the name Lewis Allan. Michael and Robert Rosenberg went to live with the Meeropols in January of 1954. While Abel Meeropol was a communist, “Beloved Comrade” belongs to no faction and has been sung in solidarity by many left-wing movements. It also made me think about how small and secretive the left was for so many decades, and in some ways continues to be. "Strange Fruit" is a song recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, written by Abel Meeropol and published in 1937. DSA understands that. Robert Meeropol recalls: They were at this study group reading Lenin or something and Abel raised his hand to the party functionary who was doing the teaching and he said, “I don’t know why I have to read all this stuff. This piece’s history is compelling. [4] It was also included in the "Songs of the Century" list of the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. Strange Fruit is a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, who first sang and recorded it in 1939. For 30 years he has been a progressive activist, author and speaker. The song was highly regarded; the 1939 recording eventually sold a million copies,[7] in time becoming Holiday's biggest-selling recording. “There was no regular job,” Robert Meeropol recalls. According to Robert Meeropol, Abel had a visceral “anger over injustice and a willingness to act upon that.” Alongside these deep feelings also appears to have been a uniquely attuned moral clarity. In October 1939, Samuel Grafton of the New York Post said of "Strange Fruit", "If the anger of the exploited ever mounts high enough in the South, it now has its Marseillaise. “Strange Fruit” This anti-lynching poem was written by Abel Meeropol, a teacher, songwriter, and member of the American Communist Party. Du Bois. As the tumultuous present unearths the radical past, Hollywood keeps putting out films that capitalize on public interest while propping up existing power structures. In the poem, Meeropol expressed his horror at lynchings, inspired by Lawrence Beitler 's photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. Like many artistic New York City lefties, the Meeropols joined the Communist Party in the 1930s. Hearing this story made me feel bound to my new community, and made me think how powerful a collective memory like this can be. Abel had written “Strange Fruit” when the left was rallying in support of an anti-lynching bill in the Senate. Holiday's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978. The poem specifically focuses on the horrific lynchings that took place primarily across the American South, in which black individuals were brutally tortured and murdered—and often strung up from trees to be gawked at—by white supremacists. It’s as if a DSA member on Twitter were writing left-wing fan fiction. Strange Fruit: The most shocking song of all time? How Robert and Michael were going to live—and who they were going to live with—remained an open question after their parents were executed. It was most famously performed by Billy Holiday, who first sang “Strange Fruit” in 1939. The sons of accused spies, taken under the wings of famous civil rights icons, wind up in the care of radical artists and activists. Diana Ross recorded the song for her debut film, the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues (1972), and it was included on the chart topping soundtrack album. Du Bois. Does it really help people in developing countries? Recently, Sing in Solidarity, a choir composed of members of Democratic Socialists of America (of which I am a member), sang it for the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Abel Meeropol (February 10, 1903 - October 30, 1986) was an American writer, teacher and song-writer, best known under his … Such lynchings had reached a peak in the Southern United States at the turn of the 20th century, and the great majority of victims were black. Abel Meeropol wrote Strange Fruit after seeing a photograph of a lynching. His type of artistry was ideal for writing politically powerful songs. [29] The group's rendition was selected by the Mojo magazine staff to be included on the compilation Music Is Love: 15 Tracks That Changed The World . The photograph helped inspire the poem and song "Strange Fruit" written by Abel Meeropol -- and performed around the world by Billie Holiday. ‘Strange Fruit’ has often been described as a dirge-like ballad. The only way the Meeropols’ story would get approved by network executives is if it were pitched by someone like Aaron Sorkin—who would no doubt fill his script with speechifying neoliberals. As lefty public school teachers, the Meeropols were both heavily involved in the New York City Teachers Union. Strange FruitWritten by Abel Meeropol as a poem.Famously performed by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Abel Meeropol (February 14, 1903 – October 29, 1986) was an American songwriter and poet whose works were published under his pseudonym, Lewis Allan. Mary Filippo began in 2004 to audit economics classes in the hope that she could “learn something about globalization. But the Meeropols won the legal battle and we were reunited with them in the fall of 1954. As a result, Meeropol and Holiday both faced intense scrutiny from authorities. I would zero in on the interconnected network of unions, socialist organizations, and civil rights groups that events like the execution of the Rosenbergs left in tatters. It is vital that the left continue to punch back at these rewritings of radical history. [9] Holiday first performed the song at Café Society in 1939. [23] LA Times noted that Siouxsie and the Banshees's version contained "a solemn string section behind the vocals" and "a bridge of New Orleans funeral-march jazz" which enhanced the singer's "evocative interpretation". Because Gabler worried the song was too short, he asked pianist Sonny White to improvise an introduction. Billie Holiday was so well known for her rendition of "Strange Fruit" that "she crafted a relationship to the song that would make them inseparable". Meeropol, a member of the American Communist Party, using the pseudonym, Lewis Allan, published the poem in the New York Teacher and … What are its downsides?” She did not learn these things. [9][10] Though Meeropol had asked others (notably Earl Robinson) to set his poems to music, he set "Strange Fruit" to music himself. Its author recognized “Strange Fruit” as a necessary statement then–and it remains so now. [15] When Holiday's producer John Hammond also refused to record it, she turned to her friend Milt Gabler, owner of the Commodore label. In the 1930s, the Communist Party USA swelled to about 80,000 members at the height of its popularity. Columbia gave Holiday a one-session release from her contract so she could record it; Frankie Newton's eight-piece Café Society Band was used for the session. ‘Strange Fruit’ has often been described as a dirge-like ballad. The new movement needs its own works of art, and the means to make those works are within reach. Later, his song was popularized by Billie Holiday and became well-known for confronting racism in America head-on. Abel Meeropol writing rhythm and rhyme Injustice inflicted on fellow men Jewish poet formed by events of his time Razor-sharp lines flowing out of his pen His thoughts wandering to the news of the south Whites lynching blacks on barren southern trees Strange fruit harvest as related mouth to mouth Democracy swings on a killing breeze (15 Tracks That Changed The World) CD", "100 Songs of the South | accessAtlanta.com", "Strange Fruit: A protest song with enduring relevance", https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Strange_Fruit&oldid=997228600, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, This page was last edited on 30 December 2020, at 15:36. It was an attack on the perpetrators of lynching.” It was also in this period that Abel Meeropol wrote the poem, “Beloved Comrade.” [22], Notable cover versions of this song include Nina Simone (whose version was sampled in Kanye West's "Blood on the Leaves"[23]), René Marie,[23] Jeff Buckley,[23] Siouxsie and the Banshees,[24] Dee Dee Bridgewater,[24] Josh White,[25] UB40,[24] Bettye LaVette[26] and Edward W. Manny [Emanuel Hirsch] Bloch knew about Abel’s reputation as the author of “Strange Fruit” and knew that Abel and Anne were both supportive of my birth parents, Robert Meeropol told me. It was no doubt this same fearless, clearheaded nature that made him write an anti-lynching song at the height of Jim Crow and to adopt the sons of the Rosenbergs at the height of the Cold War. So, he met them, he liked them, and he said, “OK, you can adopt them!”. When put to music by composer Fred Katz, “Beloved Comrade” became an anthem sung at socialist funerals. While Hollywood isn’t going to tell the real story of the Meeropols anytime soon, if I were to make that TV series, I would open it on a party scene in the front parlor of a Brooklyn brownstone. The room is decorated for Christmas. In 1937, after seeing a photo depicting the lynching of a black man in the south, Bronx-born high school teacher Abel Meeropol wrote a poem entitled "Strange Fruit" that begins with the words: "Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root." The poet presents an image of a tree that bears strange fruit. 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By 1953, photographs of Robert and Michael Rosenberg, in suits and Brooklyn Dodgers caps, had been plastered across newspapers for three years. “We were told that we were going to go live with them,” Robert Meeropol, the youngest son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, recently told me of meeting his adoptive parents for the first time. My feeling of belonging came part and parcel with a feeling of exclusivity. The song was recorded and performed by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone among other artists. I would sidestep David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother who implicated her and Julius in the spy ring, and on whose testimony much of the evidence in the case relied. He also attended a socialist reading group that the Communist Party ran for Hollywood screenwriters. The point of ‘Strange Fruit’ was that it was an attack song. "Strange Fruit," written by Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol in 1937, takes a harrowing and unflinching look at American racism. The Meeropols were living back in New York City in 1954 when they adopted the Rosenberg boys. The main themes of the poem “Strange Fruit” by Abel Meeropol are racism and violence. [30][31], Billie Holiday's performances and recordings, Last edited on 30 December 2020, at 15:36, Review: Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights, "Strange Fruit is still a song for today", "The Strange Story of the Man Behind 'Strange Fruit, "Strange Fruit: Anniversary Of A Lynching". [3], Meeropol set his lyrics to music with his wife and singer Laura Duncan and performed it as a protest song in New York City venues in the late 1930s, including Madison Square Garden. Blood on … [27] Nina Simone recorded the song in 1965,[28] a recording described by journalist David Margolick in the New York Times as featuring a "plain and unsentimental voice". [11], The lyrics are under copyright but have been republished in full in an academic journal, with permission.[12]. ‘Strange Fruit’ by Abel Meeropol is a poem on the genocide of black people in America. At the party, perhaps standing off to the side of the partygoers, is the poet-songwriter Abel Meeropol (also known by his pen name, Lewis Allan), the author of famous anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit.” He stands beside his wife, Anne Meeropol, a public school teacher and union organizer. She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation but, because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing the piece, making it a regular part of her live performances. Poem by the Party at the height of its members were also members of the Meeropols were both involved... It to music by composer Fred Katz, “ OK, you can them. Adopt him and his brother Holiday sang `` Strange Fruit ’ was that it was an song. 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