April 12, 2015

Billie Holiday: A Centennial Tribute

April 7, 2015, marked the centennial of Billie Holiday's birth. Her artistry has inspired the work of so many. For example, Cassandra Wilson's new project, 'Coming Forth By Day,' covers a number of Lady Day's songs. And Vincent Valdez's recent series of paintings draws on Holiday's work.

April is also National Poetry Month. For some time, I have been working on a found poem based on 'Strange Fruit' written by Abel Meeropol and performed by Billie Holiday. This is a good time to release the poem that also works with the song. It extends the idea of strange fruit rotting beneath the poplar trees to seeds of that fruit carrying on the struggle for liberty. I give you:

'Strange Seeds' [Title]

Hatred breeds such a strange fruit
Blood streams to the ground, ne’er will be mute
Black pods burst and puts forth seeds
Strong fruit grows round the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
Painful cries for lives snuffed out
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
Then human rights and laws don’t mesh

Seeds take root, crows refuse to pluck
For the rain to gather, no reliance on luck
For the sun to nourish what the tree did drop
Seeds of that strange and bitter crop
© Z. Hall, 2015

Vincent Valdez's series of eight large-scale oil paintings, 'The Strangest Fruit,' investigates the lesser discussed but widespread lynching of Mexicanos in Texas between 1848 and 1928. The images of men's contorted bodies wearing modern day clothing and seemingly suspended in space connects historical mistreatment of Latinos to present day injustices.

© Vincent Valdez

In an interview with Ed Fuentes, Valdez said, "It is important to depict these portraits through contemporary faces and bodies which suggest that the presence and threat of the noose itself has been reshaped, repackaged, and is as present as ever in modern America ... which represents an "obscure part of American history."

Cassandra Wilson's 'Coming Forth By Day,' with the exception for one original song, covers many of Holiday's most famous songs. Wilson performed the song book set to fresh arrangements at the Kennedy Center for Jazz Night in America on March 31, 2015.

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