Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra - Commodore 526 (1939)

From wikipedia…

Barney Josephson, the founder of Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, New York's first integrated nightclub, heard the song and introduced it to Billie Holiday. Other reports say that Robert Gordon, who was directing Billie Holiday's show at Cafe Society, heard the song at Madison Square Garden and introduced it to her. Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939. She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation but, because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing the piece making it a regular part of her live performances. Because of the poignancy of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday's face; and there would be no encore.

Holiday approached her recording label, Columbia, about the song, but the company feared reaction by record retailers in the South, as well as negative reaction from affiliates of its co-owned radio network, CBS. Even John Hammond, Holiday's producer, refused so she turned to friend Milt Gabler, whose Commodore label produced alternative jazz. Holiday sang "Strange Fruit" for him a cappella, and moved him to tears.

Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record it and Frankie Newton's eight-piece Cafe Society Band was used for the session. Because he was worried that the song was too short, Gabler asked pianist Sonny White to improvise an introduction so that Holiday only starts singing after 70 seconds. Gabler worked out a special arrangement with Vocalion Records to record and distribute the song.

She recorded two major sessions at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. The song was highly regarded and the 1939 record sold a million copies, in time becoming Holiday's biggest-selling record.

Frankie Newton t / Tab Smith ss, as / Kenneth Hollon, Stanley Payne ts / Sonny White p / Jimmy McGlin g / John Williams sb / Eddie Dougherty d / Billie Holiday v.

Recorded in New York on April 20, 1939.

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