Andra Day Performed a Chilling Rendition of 'Strange Fruit' at the 2017 Global Citizen Festival
Originally by Billie Holiday, the song was a protest against lynching and racism in America.
Andra Day stunned the crowd at the 2017 Global Citizen Festival on Saturday evening with her incredible rendition of “Strange Fruit” when she took to the stage after the Equal Justice Initiative's video about the history of slavery and lynching, and the enduring legacy of racism in America.
“Southern trees bear strange fruit,” she began, unaccompanied.
The “strange fruit” to which the song refers are the bodies of lynched black Americans and became a protest song against violent racism when it was first recorded in 1939 by Billie Holiday.
Day wore a broken pair of handcuffs as she gave a chilling performance of the song before a video backdrop, which listed the names of people who were lynched, as well as where and when they were killed. According to the NAACP, 3,446 black people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, accounting for more than 70% of all people lynched during that time period.
Day’s moving performance was both a powerful statement about race, violence, and mass incarceration in America today, and a tribute to Holiday, one of Day’s inspirations.
“The artists that I admired when I was young and who I was exposed to at school—artists like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday... They use[d] their platforms to talk about race,” Day told Jezebel.
“Being inspired by artists like that, it’s not just a decision,” she continued. “I think it’s a driving force inside me, to do not do music just for myself, but to do it because you have a platform and a you have a responsibility.”
Throughout the performance, her backup singers sat slumped over, as if lifeless, recalling lives lost as a result of racial violence.
“That was a song that was written over 80 years ago and unfortunately the message in the song is still just as relevant today as it was then,” Day told the crowd at the festival.
She explained that Billie Holiday sang “Strange Fruit” to “stand up for something” even if it meant her life would be threatened, and encouraged audience members to stand up for something too.
Day was one of several artists who commanded the Global Citizen Festival stage on Saturday to stand up for freedom, for justice, for all.
"People are absolutely worth the fight and sacrifice. They just need to know that and know that other people feel that way about them," she told Global Citizen.
Her performance of “Strange Fruit” in Central Park certainly let people know that she’s ready to fight for them.
One of the most memorable renditions of "Strange Fruit" since Billie Holiday. Thank you, Andra Day!— Luisa Inez Newton (@InezTexas) September 24, 2017
That Andra Day cover of Strange Fruit was unreal. So powerful. #GlobalCitizen— Ally Roche (@AllyRoche) September 23, 2017
I knew Andra Day wld be singing "Strange Fruit" crowd is near silence #GCFest— Shauntel J (@essayjenkins) September 23, 2017