A Young Gypsy: Billie Holiday

Michelle Merica

I am writing in honor of President‰’s Day. Even though it was a few days ago I decided to actually observe the holiday (pay no attention that I decided to think about what President‰’s day actually is on a Tuesday and not on the designated day). I began to think naturally of our President and America‰’s history. I thought of obesity, free press, Toddlers and Tiaras, and racism. As a means to avoid all these American stereotypes, I tried to eat healthier by not pairing my quesadilla from the Tavern with French fries, wrote this article as a way to exercise my power, and only watched two instead of five episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras. But then there was racism that seems to be so prevalent in everyday culture.

Although the civil rights movement happened decades ago, I will say the desired result of an equal world is still not met. I still hear girls squeal, “That guy is hot for a black guy‰” or men disregarding a woman by saying, “Nah, I don‰’t do Indian chicks.‰” I called my grandmother to ask her if anything has changed with race since she was a young girl and her only response was to tell me to stop listening to my “liberal commie Hitler impersonator‰” professors.

I turned to Billie Holiday, a woman who understood that progress had not reached it‰’s fullest potential. Although the times of Holiday and myself are radically different, the feelings of her sadness have still lingered. In her most powerful song, “Strange Fruit,‰” Holiday sings of the lynching in the south by comparing the murdered bodies to fruit dangling from a tree, “Southern trees bear a strange fruit/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.‰”

“Strange Fruit‰” has been covered by the likes of Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley, but no one has quite got the somber and organic shakiness to her voice the way Holiday does. Rare videos of Holiday singing this particular song show her eyes glazing over with a beautiful contradiction of fear and bravery. Holiday sang this song in the faces of those who wanted to kill her. She shed light on one of the most disturbingly dark periods in American history.

We can all take heed of Holiday‰’s bravery. Sometimes I get too shy to tell someone I find his or her racist ideologies to be offensive, but I look to Holiday to give me strength. Billie Holiday has helped me become “that girl‰” (you know, the one who just can‰’t understand that it‰’s all a joke) at every party I go to and I wouldn‰’t have it any other way.

By Michelle Merica