1933 September 30

Predecessor to “Strange Fruit” Introduced on Broadway

 

Six years before Billie Holiday recorded her famous anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit,” Ethel Waters introduced the anti-lynching song “Supper Time” on Broadway.

At the time, Ethel Waters was one of the most popular African-American singers. “Supper Time” was one number in Irving Berlin’s musical review “As Thousands Cheer,” which consisted of political satire. Berlin is most famous for such songs as “God Bless America” and “Easter Parade,” but as “Supper Time” clearly indicates, he had a concern about racial injustice in America.

The story line of “Supper Time” is that a woman laments that her husband will not be home for dinner because he has been lynched. “Supper Time” is not as explicit or as powerful as “Strange Fruit,” but the message is nonetheless clear.

It is particularly remarkable that the song appeared on Broadway in 1933. After all, in 1939 Columbia records refused to record Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” out of fear of a racist backlash, and granted her a special waiver to allow Commodore Records to record it.

“Supper Time” is available on a collection of Ethel Waters’ hits, Ella Fitzgerald, “The Irving Berlin Songbook,” and Barbra Streisand, “People”

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