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The Insider's Connection

Gospel Music

Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”: The First Great Protest Song of the Civil Rights Movement

What happens when protest is propelled forward by music? How do people in power silence artists who have the courage to speak against injustice? What is the cost of resistance through art?  Billie Holiday, the legendary jazz singer, challenges the injustice of lynching with her iconic rendition of the song “Strange Fruit,” the first great Civil Rights Movement protest song, but she paid a high price. Billie Holiday had a tough childhood. At 9 years old she started working as an errand-runner in a Baltimore brothel and was sexually assaulted. At the age of 10, she was sent to The House of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic reform school for “troubled” African-American girls. When she was released from The House of the Good Shepherd at age 10, Holiday moved with her mother Sadie, the only consistent support system in her…

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February 25, 2019

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