Billie Holiday born in 1915 was one of the greatest female jazz singers. Holiday had one of the most controversial songs of her era “Strange Fruit”. The song is about dead lynched Black bodies swinging from trees. The song is very scary, sad, and detrimental to Holiday’s career. Because the song “Strange Fruit” was causing an uproar in the Black communities, the U.S. tried to ban Holiday from singing it. The Hulu original movie The United States vs Billie Holiday directed by Lee Daniels explores the harassment of Billie holiday throughout her career.
She grew up fast. Her mother was a prostitute and worked in a whorehouse. Billie’s mother kicked her out at a very young and she was raised in a brothel. Sadly, Holiday would prostitute herself at 13 to survive.
What Happened To Billie Holiday?
It all started In 1939 when Holiday sang “Strange Fruit” at Café Society, New York City’s first non-segregated nightclub. After that performance, the FBI tried everything they could do in their POWER to stop her from singing “Strange Fruit” ever again. FBI agent Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger spied and harassed Holiday throughout most of her career. He led a continuous hunt after Holiday for years. Making sure she didn’t sing that one song “Strange Fruit”. That’s how much power the song had.
Anslinger used Black FBI undercover agents to set up, follow, and watch Holiday. He segregated the Black FBI agents from the White FBI agents. Making the Black agents work in the basement. Anslinger was a bigot who went after jazz artist like Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie for marijuana. He believed jazz music was devil music and promoting drugs like reefer making white kids smoke it. So he started a war on drugs and Jazz.
Billie Holiday Last Days
Many venues would not allow Holiday to sing the song. So, Holiday wrote in her contract that she wouldn’t perform at any venues that wouldn’t allow her to sing “Strange Fruit”. She continued to sing “Strange Fruit”, and the FBI continued to arrest her several times on drug charges. Unfortunately, in 1959 Holiday got critically ill and needed hospital care. As she laid ill in her hospital bed, the FBI handcuffed Holiday and arrested after narcotics agents claimed to have found heroin on her in the hospital.
They denied her medical treatment, which made her illness worse. Ultimately, do to no medical treatment on July 15, 1959 at NYC Health Hospital Holiday died at 44. They considered her a drug addict that passed because of side effects from drugs and cirrhosis. But some think she would still be alive if they didn’t refuse medical treatment.
Unfortunately, Holiday died alone because of her arrest, friends and family could not see her before she passed. The Narcotics Agent Harry Anslinger remained the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner until his retirement at 70 years old. Jimmy Fletcher, a Black FBI Agent regretted his involvement with Anslinger & The US Government harassment of Billie Holiday.Time Magazine named Strange Fruit song of the century. In 1978, they induced Strange Fruit into the Grammys Hall Of Fame.