Editor's Note: I've written and re-written several introductions to this article over the past 30 minutes, but none of them do this article justice. An introduction isn't necessary, but I believe it's important, to get the point across that this article contains difficult subject matter and how those in the artistic community dealt with a terrible part of our history in the US. If this article doesn't make you feel for the people involved, doesn't make you want to listen to the "song of the century," doesn't make you want to listen to more of the great music of the time, then I can't relate to you. I thank Gilbert for writing about this song, the surrounding circumstances, and including insightful information. If you're familiar with song and the situation, this remains an interesting read and should spark you to do some listening this evening. - CC
In 1999, as the Twentieth Century was winding down, Time
magazine sent its editors and correspondents out on an epic assignment: define, analyze and curate the Twentieth Century. It was to be the story of the century (no pun intended). Time
wanted to present whatever had happened, what preceded it, what succeeded it, and what it meant. All categories were to be considered and evaluated, and as this column is about music, we’ll look at how they rated the music of that volatile, passing century.
They considered beauty and impact, and out of every piece of music written and recorded in the past hundred years, their selection as the most significant song of the century was “Strange Fruit,” by Billie Holiday. While I know there are excellent reasons for their selection, I asked several friends what they knew about the song, and that’s why I feel that not enough people know it. And, as you would surmise, the song has quite a story behind it. So it is both historic and it has a history. Let’s look and listen: