Singer Rebecca Ferguson has said she will agree to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration under one condition: She wants to sing “Strange Fruit.”
Perhaps the best-known song about racism in America, “Strange Fruit” features lyrics that paint a disturbing picture of lynching victims: “Southern trees bear strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
Ferguson, best known as the Season 7 runner-up of the British “X Factor” in 2010, is mixed-race with a Jamaican father. Her proposed song choice “speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States,” she wrote, noting that she’d been asked to perform.
The singer shared her full statement over Twitter:
I’ve been asked and this is my answer. If you allow me to sing “strange fruit” a song that has huge historical importance, a song that was blacklisted in the United States for being too controversial. A song that speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States. A song that is a reminder of how love is the only thing that will conquer all the hatred in this world, then I will graciously accept your invitation and see you in Washington. Best Rebecca X
Written by a white Jewish man, Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” was originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, and later covered by Nina Simone. According to Holiday, her first performance of the song at New York’s liberal Cafe Society stunned her audience into a slow clap.
“There wasn’t even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everybody was clapping,” the singer said.
The grotesque imagery of “Strange Fruit” would certainly be a powerful statement on the Inauguration Day of President-elect Trump, who has had a rocky relationship with the American black community. It seems unlikely he will agree to Ferguson’s terms.
But with many musicians aligning themselves with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election ― and some explicitly speaking out against the Republican nominee ― the Trump team is reportedly having a tough time finding performers.
So far, the Radio City Rockettes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and singer Jackie Evancho from “America’s Got Talent” are slated to perform. However, managers of the Rockettes have stated its members are not required to show up, and one choir member has quit in protest. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who was reportedly lined up to perform, announced he will not be.