Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song: In the 1930s, Billie was known as a performer of jazz and blues music, but this song wasn't either of those things.
Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song
The audience was completely silent the first time Billie Holiday performed a song called “Strange Fruit.” In the 1930s, Billie was known as a performer of jazz and blues music, but this song wasn’t either of those things. It was a song about injustice, and it would change her life forever.
Discover how two outsiders―Billie Holiday, a young black woman raised in poverty, and Abel Meeropol, the son of Jewish immigrants―combined their talents to create a song that challenged racism and paved the way for the Civil Rights movement.
About the Author & Illustrator
Gary Golio is an artist and acclaimed picture book author. His Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow was a New York Times bestseller. Find out more about him at www.garygolio.com.
Charlotte Riley-Webb, a professional visual artist with a career that spans more than 40 years, resides in the Atlanta area. Find her online at www.charlotterileywebb.com.
A Few Reviews
“Singer Billie Holiday had a knack for jazz improvisation and dramatic performance, but she emerged from a difficult childhood into a world that didn’t support black success. In 1938, she found a singing home in an integrated Greenwich Village club called Café Society. When its owner asked Holiday to sing Abel Meeropol’s haunting song ‘Strange Fruit,’ she made it her own, eventually performing it throughout the country. While a song about lynching may seem a challenging choice for a picture book subject, the combination of words and images here is strikingly effective. Riley-Webb’s emotionally expressive illustrations are as forceful as the topic. Done with acrylic paint and tissue collage, they are full of rough textures, curved lines, and grasping hands. In a smoothly written text, with important ideas emphasized in a larger font, Golio briefly summarizes Holiday’s early life and career. He leaves out most of the seamier details and concludes his narrative with accounts of two early performances of this haunting song, the first in a private apartment in Harlem and the second in the club. Back matter includes the lyrics and two pages of exposition that define lynching and describe the subsequent history of the song and the singer. VERDICT: This is not an easy book, but it is powerful―just like its theme. Consider for guided in-depth discussions on Billie Holiday and U.S. history.“―School Library Journal
“Lynching: a strange and difficult but important topic for a song―and for this picture book. Golio crafts an honest biography of African-American jazz singer Billie Holiday, whose light skin, penchant for improvisation, and commitment to social justice often made her the center of heated controversy. As Holiday once said: ‘Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what’s more than enough.’ As ‘one of the first black singers to work in an all-white band,’ Billie excelled until her handlers asked her never to talk with customers or walk alone, to use service elevators, and to stay upstairs until performance time―all to convince white patrons that the venues where she sang remained racially segregated. When Jewish songwriter Abel Meeropol wrote ‘Strange Fruit,’ about the lynching of blacks, for Billie to perform, Meeropol’s rendition of it failed to move her. Once she made it her own, however, she stunned audiences with her performance. This picture book emphasizes that the arts not only entertain, but can also be powerful change agents. Riley-Webb’s moving, richly textured illustrations, rendered in acrylics with tissue collages on canvas paper, reflect the constant motion of jazz and the striking excitement of improvisation. The informative backmatter expands upon Holiday’s biographical details and offers narrative explanations of source quotes. A must-read, must-discuss that will speak to children and linger with adults.“―starred, Kirkus Reviews