The point of ‘Strange Fruit’ was that it was an attack song. This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged. Ecosystem Destruction Fueled the Pandemic. [16] Holiday sang "Strange Fruit" for him a cappella, and moved him to tears. Robert Meeropol believes that this is exactly how Abel intended the song to be used. Holiday recorded two major sessions of the song at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. We can see the current left movement’s need for such works in the wildly successful career of a writer like Sorkin. It needs to be able to frame those stories for widespread consumption. I actually wouldn’t approach the trial or the appeals much at all. Directed by Joel Katz. Abel Meeropol wrote Strange Fruit after seeing a photograph of a lynching. [2] The song has been called "a declaration of war" and "the beginning of the civil rights movement". Does it really help people in developing countries? He also attended a socialist reading group that the Communist Party ran for Hollywood screenwriters. Under constant threat of persecution, the New York City left was necessarily close knit. Blood on … On the recording, Holiday starts singing after 70 seconds. The house belongs to Black socialist and civil rights activist W.E.B. The song's best known recordings and performances were by Billie Holiday and Josh White. 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. As the tumultuous present unearths the radical past, Hollywood keeps putting out films that capitalize on public interest while propping up existing power structures. Monthly Review Foundation Vivian. In our phone interview in September 2020, Robert Meeropol spoke to me for over an hour, with tremendous fluidity and frankness, about the circumstances surrounding his parents’ execution and how he and his brother were adopted by the Meeropols. Holiday approached her recording label, Columbia, about the song, but the company feared reaction by record retailers in the South, as well as negative reaction from affiliates of its co-owned radio network, CBS. The new movement needs its own works of art, and the means to make those works are within reach. Maybe you already know that these people flew in the same circles because they were at some point either members of the Communist Party or, at the very least, friendly to the socialist cause in America. 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. Later, his song was popularized by Billie Holiday and became well-known for confronting racism in America head-on. To acknowledge this fact is to acknowledge the need for ambitious left-wing storytelling that can act as a counternarrative. In 1937 Abe Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from New York, saw a photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. 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. Abel had written “Strange Fruit” when the left was rallying in support of an anti-lynching bill in the Senate. [23] Rene Marie's rendition was coupled with Confederate anthem "Dixie", making for an "uncomfortable juxtaposition", according to Pellegrinelli. However, before the adoption had been formalized, Bloch suffered a heart attack and died. It encouraged cultural work and supported artists through organizations like John Reed Clubs for writers and the Pierre Degeyter Club for musicians. The point of ‘Strange Fruit’ was that it was an attack song. It made me feel as if I had just brushed aside half a century’s worth of dust and discovered a part of my own past. The tragic effect gets embodiment in the poem by the use of Meeropol’s bitter irony. Strange Fruit: The most shocking song of all time? Strange Fruit is a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, who first sang and recorded it in 1939. “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 story would begin with the Christmas party at the Du Bois’ and end with Robert and Michael being reunited with the Meeropols, after they had won their legal battle. I think that misses the truth. Through this daisy chain of personal ties, the Meeropols were ultimately able to adopt Robert and Michael. [15] When Holiday's producer John Hammond also refused to record it, she turned to her friend Milt Gabler, owner of the Commodore label. 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. My feeling of belonging came part and parcel with a feeling of exclusivity. 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. Perhaps you already know what the Du Bois’, the Meeropols, and the Rosenbergs all had in common. It was an attack on the perpetrators of lynching.”. The left would go crazy over Jewish American dissidents Abel and Anne Meeropol if they were alive today. When challenged, Holiday—whose autobiography had been ghostwritten by William Dufty—claimed, "I ain't never read that book."[19]. Abel changed the title to “Strange Fruit” and set the poem to music in November of 1938. “At that point, right-wing groups tried to have us taken from Abel and Anne, and a court custody battle developed,” Robert Meeropol told me. Anne Meeropol sang and played it on her nylon string guitar at Teachers’ … As lefty public school teachers, the Meeropols were both heavily involved in the New York City Teachers Union. ‘Strange Fruit’ has often been described as a dirge-like ballad. Like many artistic New York City lefties, the Meeropols joined the Communist Party in the 1930s. I know who the workers are, I know who the owners are, I know who our allies are, I know who our enemies are, that’s good enough for me! We dropped from public sight and within a couple of years our names were changed to Meeropol.”. Robert and Michael were raised in a loving, quirky, left-wing home. Hardy. 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. Holiday's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978. 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. However, its delusionally “pragmatic” messaging had a real effect on liberal political discourse and practice. The Party at the time was a hotbed of creative activity. 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. 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. Meeropol was a member of the American Communist Party, but would later quit. Considering the vivid images and sustained metaphor of the song “Strange Fruit,” it shouldn’t be surprising that it began as a poem. [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. Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Leftist solidarity was a theme that ran throughout Abel’s songwriting career and political life. [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 . His type of artistry was ideal for writing politically powerful songs. While Abel Meeropol was a communist, “Beloved Comrade” belongs to no faction and has been sung in solidarity by many left-wing movements. [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". 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. His show, The West Wing, is admittedly very bad art. He wrote "Strange Fruit" (1937), which was recorded by Billie Holiday. 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. Perhaps you’ve already guessed the secret behind this odd convergence of people. I felt rejuvenated and included. It was most famously performed by Billy Holiday, who first sang “Strange Fruit” in 1939. The Bernie Sanders campaigns understood that. 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. He wrote songs for left-wing reviews that were supported by or in the orbit of the Party. But we also need to do our own storytelling, to make creative narrative works that mythologize our own past. “Between Capitalism and Community” by Michael A. Lebowitz, Counterfire reviews “The Dawning of the Apocalypse” by Gerald Horne, Marx & Philosophy on Gerald Horne’s “Jazz and Justice”, Left Voice reviews Rob Wallace’s “Dead Epidemiologists” + This Is Hell interviews Rob Wallace, Time Talks–so does Gerald Horne: about “The Dawning of the Apocalypse”, Upper Ocean Temperatures Set a New High Record in 2020, Record number of billion-dollar disasters struck U.S. in 2020. He barely escaped blacklisting by changing jobs, moving around the country, and lying and obfuscating when interrogated by government agents. Meeropol, his wife, and black vocalist Laura Duncan performed it at Madison Square Garden. The room is decorated for Christmas. It first appeared as a poem, “Bitter Fruit,” in the New York Teacher, a publication for the New York City Teachers Union. Germany draws another line in the sand for the U.S. Twitter’s ban on Trump will only deepen the U.S. tribal divide, Marxism and feminism – Marxism and Women’s Liberation extract, American capitalism’s endless military drive, were arrested in 1950 after being accused of sharing nuclear secrets with the Soviets, photographs of Robert and Michael Rosenberg, a real effect on liberal political discourse, International Commission of Inquiry to open hearings on racist police violence in the U.S. on MLK Day, “Your Economics Professor is almost Certainly a Charlatan”, The Continuing Korean War in the Murderous History of Bombing, Disability and Welfare under Monopoly Capitalism, Fighting the “Immigrant Threat” Narrative, New! Probably written for Spanish Civil War soldiers from the International Brigades, it was sung by Josh White for Franklin Roosevelt and by Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert in memory of Sacco and Vanzetti (two Italian anarchists framed for murder and executed in 1927). The Rosenbergs were executed June 19, 1953. (1) Abel Meeropol, Strange Fruit (1939) I think that misses the truth. It’s even been fictionalized by E.L. Doctorow in The Book of Daniel (a beautiful example of navel-gazing Sorkinesque white guy writing if there ever was one). I would instead focus my story on the left-wing community in New York City who rallied around the Rosenberg family. They remained friendly with Party members throughout his childhood. So, he met them, he liked them, and he said, “OK, you can adopt them!”. Meeropol later recalled how the photograph "haunted me for days" and inspired the writing of the poem, Strange Fruit. It was here that a news bulletin interrupting their Yankees game informed them of the hour of their parents’ impending execution. 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. Their tale is a radical epic so poignant that one wonders where the 10-part miniseries is. "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! ‘Strange Fruit’ has often been described as a dirge-like ballad. Strange FruitWritten by Abel Meeropol as a poem.Famously performed by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. “A lot of what he wrote was biting satire and had a nasty edge to it. It was also what enabled him and Anne to adopt the sons of the Rosenbergs. It protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees. Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and the adoptive son of "Strange Fruit” composer Abel Meeropol. It was an attack on the perpetrators of lynching.” It was also in this period that Abel Meeropol wrote the poem, “Beloved Comrade.” [9][10] Though Meeropol had asked others (notably Earl Robinson) to set his poems to music, he set "Strange Fruit" to music himself. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. 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. They are waiting patiently for the orphaned sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to arrive. [9] During the musical introduction to the song, Holiday stood with her eyes closed, as if she were evoking a prayer. With Dorothy Thigpen, Milton Gabler, Farah Jasmine Griffin, C.T. 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. By 1953, photographs of Robert and Michael Rosenberg, in suits and Brooklyn Dodgers caps, had been plastered across newspapers for three years. 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. ‘Strange Fruit’ by Abel Meeropol is a poem on the genocide of black people in America. 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 - … There was always a stream of writers and artists and performers coming and visiting. 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. [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". 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.” Crowdsourcing funds for left-wing art won’t be an easy task either. Robert Meeropol suspects that Abel and Anne only quit the Party in order to adopt him and his brother. The song was recorded and performed by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone among other artists. The sons of accused spies, taken under the wings of famous civil rights icons, wind up in the care of radical artists and activists. Courtesy of Robert and Michael Meeropol One of Billie Holiday's most iconic songs is "Strange Fruit," a haunting protest against the inhumanity of racism. 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. Its author recognized “Strange Fruit” as a necessary statement then–and it remains so now. 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. 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. Michael and Robert Rosenberg went to live with the Meeropols in January of 1954. It also made me think about how small and secretive the left was for so many decades, and in some ways continues to be. Abel had a spare, imagistic style and could use simple language to devastating emotional effect. In her 1956 autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday suggested that she, together with Meeropol, her accompanist Sonny White, and arranger Danny Mendelsohn, set the poem to music. 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. 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. 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. Perhaps we can use the time alone to think collectively, to reflect together on how we might reconstruct the public realm of our cities. 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. 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. Du Bois. “Strange Fruit” This anti-lynching poem was written by Abel Meeropol, a teacher, songwriter, and member of the American Communist Party. The Meeropol boys today are in their 70s. Meeropol, a member of the American Communist Party, using the pseudonym, Lewis Allan, published the poem in the New York Teacher and … In 1945, the Meeropols, fearful of being blacklisted like Alice Citron and so many of their fellow Teachers Union members, left their teaching jobs and took off for Los Angeles. 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. He published it in a union publication in 1937 and then set it to music. When put to music by composer Fred Katz, “Beloved Comrade” became an anthem sung at socialist funerals. If you didn’t know their back story, they would appear much like the other “red diaper babies” of their generation—that coterie of diehards who protested Vietnam, kept the faith through the dire neoliberal period, and even sent their kids to socialist summer camp. 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." For that movement to grow, however, it needs to be able to tell its stories to the uninitiated. I had to be initiated and committed to the movement in order to hear these stories. It’s as if a DSA member on Twitter were writing left-wing fan fiction. “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 … (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. The main themes of the poem “Strange Fruit” by Abel Meeropol are racism and violence. Films like Lincoln (2012), On The Basis of Sex (2018), and, most recently, Sorkin’s 2020 drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 lean into top-down proceduralism and emphasize the enduring, unshakeable nature of American institutions. The song consists of 12 lines comparing a southern idyll (“Pastoral scene of the gallant South”) with a brutal lynching (“The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth”). 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. As a result, Meeropol and Holiday both faced intense scrutiny from authorities. It is also not an impossible one, as the existence of independent left media (like this magazine) proves. He wrote "Strange Fruit" (1937), which was recorded by Billie Holiday. “There was no regular job,” Robert Meeropol recalls. Mary Filippo began in 2004 to audit economics classes in the hope that she could “learn something about globalization. The man behind "Strange Fruit" is New York City's Abel Meeropol, and he really has two stories. I was new to the left, having joined DSA after volunteering for Bernie Sanders in 2016. 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. 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. [9] Holiday first performed the song at Café Society in 1939. [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. Eventually, it would also lead him to return to the community he’d left behind, blacklists be damned. Abel Meeropol (February 14, 1903 – October 29, 1986) was an American songwriter and poet whose works were published under his pseudonym, Lewis Allan. 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. Abel and Anne are going to be their new parents. This was a radical union and many of its members were also members of the Communist Party. New York NY 10001-5304 [9] It was recorded on April 20, 1939. 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 [17] Gabler worked out a special arrangement with Vocalion Records to record and distribute the song.[18]. VivreMusicale 1,277 views Meeropol wrote the anti-lynching poem, "Strange Fruit", which was originally published in the Marxist publication The New Massesand was subsequently set to music. Hearing this story made me feel bound to my new community, and made me think how powerful a collective memory like this can be. [7], Meeropol published the poem under the title "Bitter Fruit" in January 1937 in The New York Teacher, a union magazine of the Teachers Union. The Meeropols were living back in New York City in 1954 when they adopted the Rosenberg boys. 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. "Strange Fruit," written by Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol in 1937, takes a harrowing and unflinching look at American racism. Because Gabler worried the song was too short, he asked pianist Sonny White to improvise an introduction. “There was this, that, and the other thing. DSA understands that. It’s December 1953. It was through the union that they came to know teacher and Party member, Alice Citron. It was a little reward for having the faith in humanity that had brought me to the left in the first place. The song has been covered by numerous artists, including Nina Simone, UB40, Jeff Buckley, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robert Wyatt, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Billie Holiday Original label Abel Meeropol . 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". Strange Fruit. It was also in this period that Abel Meeropol wrote the poem, “Beloved Comrade.” The poem, at eight lines, is even shorter and sparer than “Strange Fruit.” Addressing a dead friend (“To you, beloved comrade, we make this solemn vow / The fight will go on”), it comforts them in the knowledge that the struggle that they had fought and died for would continue until the final victory (“Sleep well, beloved comrade, our work will just begin / The fight will go on till we win”). 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. [20] Holiday's 1939 version of the song was included in the National Recording Registry on January 27, 2003. Subscribe to the Monthly Review e-newsletter (max of 1-3 per month). But there was only so much protection a network of friends could provide each other. 1) ‘Strange Fruit’ was inspired by lynchings that took place in 20th-century America The song was first written as a poem and published under Abel Meeropol’s pseudonym, Lewis Allan, in 1937. [11], The lyrics are under copyright but have been republished in full in an academic journal, with permission.[12]. "Strange Fruit" is a song recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, written by Abel Meeropol and published in 1937. But the Meeropols won the legal battle and we were reunited with them in the fall of 1954. 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. [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. She was one of the trustees of the fund that was raised for Robert and Michael’s upbringing. [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 writers David Margolick and Hilton Als dismissed that claim in their work Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song, writing that hers was "an account that may set a record for most misinformation per column inch". In 1953, when he was six years old, the United States government executed his parents for "conspiring to steal the secret of the atomic bomb." The poet presents an image of a tree that bears strange fruit. 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. Du Bois. ... Jewish schoolteacher and union activist from New York City named Abel Meeropol, who was outraged after seeing a photograph of a horrific lynching in a civil-rights magazine. Thankfully though Abel Meeropol, a American songwriter, took the poem and turned it into something very distinguished. 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. Abel Meeropol watches as his sons, Robert and Michael, play with a train set. In 1940 Meeropol, a socialist, was called to testify before a committee investigating communism and asked whether the US Communist Party had paid him to write Strange Fruit. 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