The Hulu original movie The United States vs Billie Holiday, directed by Lee Daniels, explores the harassment of Billie holiday throughout her career. Billie Holiday born in 1915 was one of the greatest female jazz singers of her time. She had one of the most controversial songs of her era “Strange Fruit”. The song is very controversial because it’s about dead lynched Black bodies swinging from trees in the south. “Strange Fruit” is scary, sad, and ultimately detrimental to Holiday’s career.
The song “Strange Fruit” was causing an uproar in the Black communities because of all the lynchings. Because of this the U.S. tried to ban Holiday from singing it.
Holidays Younger Days
She grew up fast. Her mother was a prostitute and worked in a whorehouse to earn money. Eventually 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 back then.
Anslinger segregated the Black FBI agents from the White FBI agents. The Black agents had to work in the basement. They would use the Black FBI undercover agents to set up, follow, and watch Holiday. Anslinger was a bigot who went after jazz artist Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie for marijuana. He believed jazz music was devil music that promoted 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 “Strange Fruit”. So, Holiday wrote in her contract that she wouldn’t perform at any venues that wouldn’t allow her to sing the controversial song. 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 her after narcotics agents claimed to have found heroin on her in the hospital.
The FBI 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 have still been 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 narcotic’s 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.