In March 1939, a 23-year-old Billie Holiday walked up to the mic at West 4th’s Cafe Society in New York City to sing her final song of the night. Per her request, the waiters stopped serving and the room went completely black, save for a spotlight on her face. And then she sang, softly in her raw and emotional voice: “Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…”
When Holiday finished, the spotlight turned off. When the lights came back on, the stage was empty. She was gone. And per her request, there was no encore. This was how Holiday performed “Strange Fruit,” which she would determinedly sing for the next 20 years until her untimely death at the age of 44.