Andra Day on the role of Billie Holiday and the enduring power of “Strange Fruit” The song “Strange Fruit” is a powerful and thematically sinister centerpiece of the new film “United States vs. Andra Day” talked to NPR’s Ari Shapiro about the pressure of playing Billie Holiday, the initial rejection of the role of her and the enduring intensity of “Strange Fruit.” “Listen to” the radio version at the audio link, and keep reading the revised transcript. The song “Strange Fruit” was written in the 1930s by one Abel Meeropolis, but will always be associated with Billie Holiday. First of all, thank you for saying “terrible words.” That’s one of the things I did on set, calling a beautiful song “Strange Fruit” is almost like a slap in the face for what “they” were trying to do. Can you tell me how it feels to say the line, “Your grandchildren will be singingStrange Fruit,'” knowing that we are , some 70 years later, talking and listening to the song? The song lives longer than all the characters in the movie. Ari Shapiro: I’m trying to imagine how a child would relate to the song “Strange Fruit,” which is so central to the film. So one of the driving forces of the film is the FBI’s fear of the song “Strange Fruit,” which describes lynching in such vivid, poetic, horrific lyrics. The lyrics vividly describe lynching, and this haunting song of protest takes center stage in the new 2017 film, United States vs. Strange Fruit, produced by Andra Day in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative. Billie Day in the United States and, as a people, as a black man, I remember being very quiet about this song, almost a little depressed. Billie Holiday, presenting music as a powerful force for change. “Andra Day”-actually her stage name, an homage to Celebration itself-Day had been a fan since her was about 11 years old. And they feared that “Strange Fruit” was true. “First of all, remind me that it’s power, you know? You always hear the phrase,Music is the only thing that can get into your psyche without permission. “‘ But it’s actually very powerful.” I thought,So you want me to do the movie, and you want me to play the part? Honestly, my first reaction was,No way. “‘ I really didn’t want to do it.”
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