Album Preview: BLACKBIRDS (Bettye LaVette and “Strange Fruit”)

Post image for Album Preview: BLACKBIRDS (Bettye LaVette and “Strange Fruit”)

by Tony Frankel on June 19, 2020

in CD-DVD,Music


In 1999, Time magazine named “Strange Fruit” — a haunting protest against the inhumanity of racism — the “song of the century.” Some may know that the man who wrote the song was inspired by a photograph of two lynched black men*, but did you know he was a white Jew from the Bronx? Writing under the pseudonym Lewis Allan — which he used when writing poetry and music — teacher and social activist Abel Meeropol played it for a New York club owner — who ultimately gave it to Billie Holiday, and the song reached millions of people. (An American Communist, Meeropol and his wife would later adopt the two sons of executed couple Ethel and Julius Rosenberg!)

Now, in a watershed year for civil rights, blues singer extraordinaire Bettye LaVette is releasing a new album on August 28 called Blackbirds, a tribute to iconic black women in music. Among the stunning selections is a new rendition of “Strange Fruit.” As always, LaVette takes a song and turns it into a story with her soulful voice that drips with graveled blues. Due to the Black Lives Matter movement, LaVette has decided to release the single early on. You can hear it now on Spotify or YouTube.

“It really is horrifying that nearly 80 years later, through Billie’s lifetime and now my 74 years, the meaning of this song still applies … these public executions are now on video and it feels like they’re doing it for sport. I hope the song will be a reminder that we have had enough,” said LaVette.

Blackbirds features songs primarily popularized by women who were the “bridge she came across on.” The album finds LaVette in top form with powerful renditions of songs that touched her personally. From Dinah Washington’s “Drinking Again,” Nina Simone’s “I Hold No Grudge” and more, they are all delivered in LaVette’s rich & raspy tone. Blackbirds honors LaVette’s heritage as an R&B singer and the women who came before her. LaVette’s rendition of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” was the song that got me hooked on her when I saw her on stage at The Hollywood Bowl — and that is the closing track on this exciting album.

Bettye LaVette
9 tracks | 40:13
pre-order on Amazon
for more info, visit Bettye LaVette

*Eighty years ago, on Aug. 7, 1930, Lawrence Beitler took what would become the most iconic photograph of lynching in America. Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were lynched in the town center of Marion, Ind., for allegedly murdering a white factory worker, Claude Deeter, and raping his companion, Mary Ball. But the case was never solved.

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