Women Who Rock: Greatest Breakthrough Moments


1939: Billie Holiday Sings 'Strange Fruit'

Billie Holiday
Charles Peterson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Holiday first performs the song during her stand at New York's Cafe Society club. It isn't exactly standard jazz-singer fare: Lewis Allan's ballad is about lynching in the Deep South, with "strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." But, as Holiday tells her band-leader, "Some guy's brought me a hell of a damn song that I'm going to do." Her record company, Columbia, refuses to touch it, so she cuts it for the indie label Commodore – and winds up with a Top 20 hit. "Strange Fruit" remains one of Holiday's signature songs.

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