Date: March 1939
An adaptation of Abel Meeropol's 1937 poem "Bitter Fruit," "Strange Fruit" has become one of Billie Holiday's most well-known performances, a poignant, tour-de-force exposing the widespread lynching of African Americans in the United States. In 1939, Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in Greenwich Village New York. She came to her label, Columbia, with the record, but, worried about backlash in the South, the label wouldn't record it. Instead, they released her from her contract for one session. She recorded the song through Vocalion records, and it sold a million copies, becoming her highest-selling record. So much for playing it safe.