1950 September 1

Folk Singer Josh White Reads Lyrics of “Strange Fruit” into the Congressional Record


Josh White was a noted African-American blues and folk singer who was also outspoken on civil rights and other social issues. On June 22, 1950, he was named in the notorious report Red Channels as a Communist sympathizer. As a result, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to testify on this day. White did not back down from his political commitments, and in fact turned the tables on HUAC by affirming his support for civil rights and reading the entire lyrics of the famous Billie Holiday song, Strange Fruit, into the Congressional Record. (See April 20, 1939, for Holiday’s original recording of the famous anti-lynching song.)

Earlier in his career, White had been invited to sing at the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt in February 1941, in what was characterized as a “command performance,” becoming the first African-American ever to perform at the White House. He also played at President Roosevelt’s third inauguration in 1941. And on January 31, 1963, he performed at “Dinner with the President,” an event honoring President John F. Kennedy that was presented to a national audience by CBS television.

Learn more: Elijah Wald, Josh White: Society Blues (2001)

Hear Josh White Sing “House of the Rising Sun”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8Ueo7r2nbA

Read Anne Braden’s critique of HUAC racism: Anne Braden, HUAC: Bulwark of Segregation (1964)

Learn more about African American history: Henry Louis Gates, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (2011)

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