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Strange Fruit with Eisa Davis
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This project is funded by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

+ About the Performance
This program was recorded 02/06/2009 at Symphony Space.

The singer-songwriter, star of the Broadway sensation Passing Strange and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright, uses the politically-charged song “Strange Fruit” as a point of departure to explore other classics of the period and protest songs from 1939 to today, including many of her own original compositions.

+ About the Artists

Eisa Davis is an actor, playwright, and singer-songwriter. Her plays include Bulrusher, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (Urban Stages, Shotgun Players), Warriors Don't Cry (Cornerstone Theater Company), Hip Hop Anansi (Imagination Stage), Angela's Mixtape, Paper Armor, Six Minutes, Umkovu, and The History Of Light. Bulrusher is published in New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2006. She is also the winner of the Helen Merrill Award, the Whitfield Cook Award, the John Lippmann New Frontier Award, and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Cave Canem, and the Van Lier and Mellon Foundations. Her work has been developed by the Hip Hop Theater Festival, New York Theater Workshop, New York Stage and Film, the New Group, Soho Rep, the Flea, Rattlestick, the Cherry Lane, Portland Center Stage, Hartford Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, Seattle Rep, Yale University, Nuyorican Poets Café, the Schomburg Center for Black Research, and the Culture Project, among others. Eisa's writing has been published in American Theatre, The Source, To Be Real, Everything But The Burden, Step Into A World, Role Call, and Total Chaos.

A classically trained pianist with an unforgettable voice, Eisa has performed to acclaim at venues including Joe's Pub; BAMCafé; the Whitney Museum at Altria; Tonic; CB's Gallery and Lounge; Makor; the Nuyorican Poets Café; Galapagos; the Jazz Gallery; the Zipper; Sugar Bar; La Peña in Berkeley, CA; Santa Monica's Temple Bar; the Duncan Theater in Palm Beach, FL; and was a recurring musical guest on the Showtime series Soul Food. She was featured in the Broadway sensation Passing Strange, and has collaborated with Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar and Daniel T Denver/Tinctures.

+ About the Music

The Music of 1939
Strange Fruit with Eisa Davis

"Strange Fruit," originally a poem from 1939 about the lynching of two black men (Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith), was written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher from the Bronx and the adoptive parent of the two sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Meeropol later set the poem to music and when, in 1939, Barney Josephson, the founder of Café Society (New York's first integrated nightclub, located in Greenwich Village), heard the haunting song, he brought it to the attention of Billie Holiday, who made it her signature song. Despite her fears that singing "Strange Fruit" would be dangerous for her because of its explicit lyrics, Holiday was committed to recording it even after her own label, Columbia Records, refused to put it out. When Milt Gabler of the Commodore jazz label heard her sing it, he was so moved that he negotiated a special arrangement with Columbia to release Holiday from her exclusive contract so that she could record the work on Vocalian Records. This powerful song left Holiday thoroughly drained and in tears after every performance, and it became the standard closing number for all of her shows. The lyrics contrast the seeming innocence of the pastoral South with the vicious brutality of racism. The song became the anthem first of the anti-lynching movement and then the Civil Rights movement that followed. This politically-charged song serves as a point of departure for this evening's exploration of other classics of the period and protest songs from 1939 to today.

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