Tuesday, October 17, 2017

WHO WAS LEWIS ALLAN, THE AUTHOR OF STRANGE FRUIT?

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

We're on the subject of Strange Fruit, the poem that became a song, which is featured in my current Battle of the Bands. Click HERE to listen to two versions of the song and cast your vote for Nina Simone or Billie Holiday. It's a close battle because both renditions are so good.

My post for yesterday is THE ORIGINS OF STRANGE FRUIT. It touches on the history of lynching and reveals that the author of the poem, and subsequent song, used the pseudonym "Lewis Allan."

Lewis Allan was Abel Meeropol, an English teacher and member of the American Communist Party (which he later left). His poem, first known as Bitter Fruit, appeared in a teachers union publication. Meeropol added music to his words, and with his wife, Anne, and a singer named Laura Duncan, began to perform it as a protest song.

A couple of different versions of the story about how the song made its way to Billie Holiday exist, but she began to perform it regularly as part of her live act and recorded it in 1939 and 1944. She claimed in her autobiography that she helped write the song along with two other people, but numerous sources state definitively that words and music are by Lewis Allan, a.k.a. Meeropol.

In 1999, "Time" magazine named Strange Fruit the best song of the century.

The Meeropols were also less well known for their link to an unusual event: the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Abel and Anne


Yes, the Meeropols and the Rosenbergs were all Communists, but they didn't know each other.

Coming up next: more about the Rosenbergs.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug





30 comments:

  1. It's possible that we can blame the ghost-writer of Billie Holiday's "autobiography," Lady Sings the Blues, for the erroneous claim that she had a hand in writing the song. On at least one occasion when someone asked her about it, she said she never read that book.

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    1. Yes, but I think she said it in more colorful terms.

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  2. It really is an incredibly powerful piece of writing. I know a little about the Rosenbergs and am looking forward to learning more.

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  3. It's not a song I'm familiar with. I'm off to You Tube to give it a listen.

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    1. Two versions are available on my BOTB blog post.

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  4. Interesting! Have you ever read "The Book of Daniel" by E.L. Doctorow? It's a wonderful story about the Rosenbergs and the effect of the execution and stigma on their children.

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    1. Yes, I have read The Book of Daniel--long ago.

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  5. I suppose they are right, the pen can be mightier than the sword. It amazes me how people can turn a blind eye to wrong doing, but I guess maintaining the status quo is very comfortable.

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    1. Change, especially when it means standing up to a mob, is very frightening.

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  6. Kudos to Lewis Allan for writing this in protest.

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  7. Or should I say Abel Meerepol? :)

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    1. If you look up Lewis Allan on Wikipedia, it redirects to Abel Meerepol, so I guess you can call him by either name.

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  8. I feel like I missed a post or 20. My apologies.

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  9. Until your blog post, I wasn't even aware of the song! You have educated me :)

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  10. Maybe Billie Holiday was talking about writing the MUSIC for the song and not the lyrics? Possibly? That's disturbing if she claimed lyrics that weren't hers...

    On to the Rosenbergs...

    Interesting stuff here Janie!

    Michele at Angels Bark

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    1. When Holiday was asked about her autobiography, she said she had never read the damn book. It was ghostwritten.

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  11. Maybe she changed the title from Bitter Fruit to Strange Fruit or the biographer made false claims. Billie seemed too honest to claim that if it wasn't true--or wouldn't have cared enough about fame to steal some credit, you know? She had people around her who would have, though.

    Anyways, this is all fascinating and I'll be waiting for the next installment. ;)

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    1. Same answer I gave to Michele right above your comment.

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  12. Wow. Made me think of Paul Robeson's rendition of Ol' Man River. The connections of nature and human cruelty and the obscenity of injustice.

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  13. Hi Janie - it's interesting how protest songs arise and get passed on over the years ... thanks for telling us about Abel et al ... cheers Hilary

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  14. Best song of the century - that's quite an accolade.
    Yet again, you have taught me new things.
    Thank you, JJ.
    Love.

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  15. I don't think I've heard of that song either. We have a Billie Holiday CD that we love but I've never looked at the titles.

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  16. I'm not surprised that "Strange Fruit" was named the best song of the century. It is powerful and unforgettable.

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