British singer Rebecca Ferguson announced yesterday (January 2) that she would accept an invitation to perform at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration under one condition: that she be allowed to perform the powerful anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit.”
— Rebecca Ferguson (@RebeccaFMusic) January 2, 2017
Inauguration ceremony: 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
According to Allmusic, teacher Abel Meeropol wrote and published “Strange Fruit” as a poem before jazz artist Billie Holiday made it famous as a song in 1939. The lyrics viscerally describe “Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,” invoking the horrors of lynching. Musicians as varied as Nina Simone, Cassandra Wilson, Jill Scott and Kanye West have since adapted and sampled the song on record and live.
CNN reports that Ferguson’s statement follows various famous musicians’ refusals to perform at the inauguration. Confirmed acts include the Radio City Rockettes dance group and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The former ensemble’s management group told CNN in December that it would not force dancers to perform. One member anonymously told Marie Claire that, to the best of her knowledge, no dancers of color signed up for the performance. “It’s almost worse to have 18 pretty White girls behind this man who supports so many hate groups,” the dancer said. Jan Chamberlin, a former Mormon Tabernacle Choir member, told MSNBC on Friday (December 30) that she left the Choir because of the scheduled performance.
Colorlines emailed the Trump transition team to verify Ferguson’s invitation. There was no response at press time. The inauguration is scheduled for January 20.