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There is a more substantive entry coming this weekend. In the meantime, here is a new Listening Corner entry: "Strange Fruit," as performed by Josh White.

Josh White was a singer/songwriter and civil rights activist beginning in the 1930s until his death in the 1960s. He was a close personal friend of FDR (whom he named as his children's godfather), and--with his Columbia album "Chain Gang"--was the first artist to break into the American mainstream with what were known derisively at the time as "race records." Despite being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, White is considered a major influence on everyone from Pete Seeger (and the subsequent folk movement) to Elvis to Eartha Kitt to Jack White. His son, Josh White Jr., continues on in his tradition.

The song, Strange Fruit, is an appropriately haunting metaphor for the lynchings that were taking place throughout the South. It was originally written as a poem and published in a teachers' union magazine. After being set to music, it gained attention when Billie Holiday began using it as a show-closer in her performances.

If you'd like to learn more about the machine (a completely non-electric, mechanical Victrola), please see the previous Listening Corner installment.

Originally posted to An Ear for Music on Thu Aug 16, 2012 at 02:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Protest Music.

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