In the early twentieth century, even though slavery had been abolished years before, racism was rampant in America. There were few brave enough to speak out about what was happening. Black artists could perform in clubs, but were not able to patron those same establishments because they were designated white only. One of those black artists decided to take a stand. Billie Holiday, known as Lady Day, recorded Strange Fruit on April 20, 1939 at Brunswicks World Broadcasting Studios with Frankie Newtons Caf Society Band. Much later, in 1995, Cassandra Wilson recorded a cover of this harrowing song. Billie Holidays ability to propel a listener into a time and place overshadows Cassandra Wilsons weaker version of Strange Fruit. Billie Holiday, upon being approached with Strange Fruit, at first was uneasy about the song. The message was so controversial it could have easily ruined her career. Inspite of the risk Billie performed it anyway. The message was too important. To reinforce the inherent drama of the song the waiters, immediately before her performing, would instruct the patrons to remain absolutely silent during the performance. The house lights were turned down with only a pin-spot lighting her face. When she finished, all the lights were turned out. When the house lights came back up Billie was gone. There were no encores so the stark imagery would be seared into the white audiences mind. Billie Holidays version opens with a very solemn melody from the trumpet, followed by a somber piano solo setting the mood of the piece. She ignores the melody outlined by the introduction. She knows the impact comes from the words rather than any specific feature of the songs melodic or harmonic construction (Nicholson113). She also uses the grit in her voice and fluctuating tones to portray the message of the piece. ` Cassandra Wilsons version lacks the power of Billie Holidays. There is a mysterious qu…
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