This past weekend I saw a production of “Eleanor Fagan: The Birth of Billie Holiday” by the Norristown Art Educational Group. It’s a one woman show about Billie Holiday’s life highlighting many of her famous songs. It is amazing how someone whose life was so fragmented went on to be so successful in her craft. Or maybe it is in spite of her upbringing that she used music as a way to escape, much to our delight and enjoyment.
One of her most famous songs, and one that was so appropriate to hear during MLK weekend was Strange Fruit a song based on a poem about lynching written by Abel Meeropol. She preformed the song in a club in 1939 and at first there were some misgivings about doing so, but it ended up becoming her biggest selling record. Time magazine called it the Song of the Century in 1999 and it was honored as one of 50 recordings added to the Library of Congress in 2002. The words of the song are chilling and inspired many other works such as documentaries and operas.
The theater production company specializes in bringing history to drama and this show was excellent. It meant a lot to me personally because according to many historians, Billie Holiday was Philadelphia born although she spent most of her life in New York. Also it is a prime example of a person who has was given so little in life and ended up making such an impact in the world. Granted the end of her life was tragic, but during her time singing, she exhibited a lot of drive and energy. It is a lesson to be learned by anyone. You don’t have to give in to poverty and evil but you can rise above your negative upbringing and be a better person.