The Sinister Story Of How “Strange Fruit” Ultimately Led To The Death Of Billie Holiday

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Image: The Library of Congress

It’s 1939 in a New York City nightclub, and rising star Billie Holiday takes to the stage. But after a crowd-pleasing set, the lights go down and the mood changes. Somberly lit by a single spotlight, Holiday sings a song that will captivate the nation – and set her on a tragic path to an untimely death.

Image: via Wikimedia Commons

Before becoming the main attraction at New York’s Cafe Society, Holiday had already led an eventful life. Born in the Pennsylvania city of Philadelphia in April 1915, she had spent her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland, where her mother Sadie struggled to provide her daughter with a stable home life.

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Image: Lewis Hine

At just ten years old, Holiday claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a neighbor, an incident that resulted in her being taken from her mother and placed in a reform school. Eventually, Sadie regained custody, and the pair moved together to New York. There, after spending some time in jail for solicitation, Holiday finally began her singing career.

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