Andra Day Channels Billie Holiday For 'Strange Fruit' Cover: Premiere

Rich Polk for Getty 
Andra Day covers the Billie Holiday classic Strange Fruit

Two-time Grammy nominee Andra Day calls forward a call of protest from 1939, confronting its still relevant subject matter with a soulful cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Just as many other artists have sampled and drawn from the timeless track, Day cites Holiday as a huge influence.

“Billie Holiday is one of the greatest inspirations for what I do now," the "Rise Up" singer says. "She used her music as her platform and her voice to speak for people who were not able to speak for themselves.”

With this cover, Day joins Google and the Equal Justice Initiative Founder/Executive Director Bryan Stevenson. Day hopes her cover opens a new dialogue. “I am equally inspired by the work of Bryan Stevenson and EJI, and I hope this song ignites new conversations about the connection between our past and present.”

The video, shot on 35mm film, highlights some of the many lynching sites that bear no memorial. Day is bathed in a warm light, haloing the profile of her flower-ridden hair, creating an ethereal atmosphere in which she can give her impassioned performance. When not focused on Day, the camera pans over the textured surface of tree bark and branches, interspersed with the beamed supports of bridges, only to resolve with haunting expanses of the landscape overlaid by details of the often unnamed victims. The conclusion comes with a dark screen, plainly laying out the goal of the collaboration: “The legacy of lynching continues through the present day. The Equal Justice Initiative believes that in order to heal, we must first tell the truth about our history of racial terror and injustice.”

Bryan Stevenson further explains the roots of this project, stating, “In this collaboration between Andra Day, EJI, and Google, we use music to express a painful and difficult truth about our nation's history of racial inequality. Inspired music has the power to expose and confront injustice differently than research, data and words alone.  It can heal and uplift us, it's critical for human rights. Justice work needs a soundtrack that inspires the struggle, it's energizing that talented artists like Andra rise to the challenge.”

EJI’s Lynching in America initiative aims to bring the distinct connection between the history of racial violence in America and the current forms of racial injustice that are still prominent today, including “racially-biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color,” a conversation that is only further sparked by EJI’s multi-year investigation into the 4,000 reported racial terror lynchings that had occurred several decades prior.  

Watch the video, below, and find out how you can contribute to the cause on the Lynching In America site

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