Instead of taking a Public Policy class this year, I decided to take my first music class in a university setting. As soon as I started my class I found out we were going to talk about the life of Billie Holiday, then I was literally on the verge of tears... (Then I realized I should've been a music major...lol.. it's too late now though :-/)
A woman whose life I stand in awe. A woman who dealt with unfathomable pain. At the age of 10 she is raped by her next door neighbor and gets blamed for it under the claim that she "seduced" her neighbour. Raised by a single mother whose livelihood was prostitution, consequently bringing Billie into that environment. She miraculously finds ways to maneuver her way through life both by her stubborn character and tenacity of her spirit. ... She was a really complex person. I dunno, on one hand, she refused to take shit from anybody. She sang behind the metronome (beat) when everyone said she was too slow, her voice was too off. She didn't take shit from Joe Glaser (picture a real-life more intense, Al Pacino) who works for a guy named Al Capone. Yet when it came to her personal life, she somehow found herself gravitating towards scumbags who introduced her to heroin, BEAT her constantly, took her money and literally left her with 700$ in her pocket on her deathbead at a hospital.
When you examine a song like "strange Fruit" and you go through Billie Holiday's life, and the controversy that surrounded her time when she sang it, you really realize how real things really were. I never realized how intense this was until the other day in my music class. If she performed the song, she would've been dropped from Colombia Records, because no label wanted to be associated with a song that was "anti-lynching" at the time. Not to mention that she could've been killed by the massive amounts of KKKs that were roaming around the country at the time. So she went behind the label's back talked to the song owners which was a record store/company called Commodore Records. ...and just recorded it.
Billie Holiday is a phenomenal woman. She Pained out-loud the only way she knew how: through her songs, and that became the strange fruit of her artistry and you could tell from her songs. When she sang about social issue like domestic abuse, love, I don't think she did it to voice the voices of 90% of women who were being abused in american households daily at the time. She did it to express herself, to clear her head, to survive and to just ..be. I don't think she knew that it was going to awake a new demographic of quiet listeners.
“Writers are obliged, at some point, to realize that they are involved in a language that they must change,” James Baldwin
To follow Baldwin's quote, I would say anyone who can read and write need to realize how plausible.. how possible change can be. Being phenomenal doesn't mean to be perfect... but to me it's to use where you're at.. or your social position, no matter how high or how low, to do something or to say something about injustices, and society in general. ... who knows, maybe someday I'll be able to fully embody Maya Angelou's poem, and shout "phenomenal woman, that's me!".