Nina Simone – ‘Pastel Blues’

Strange Fruit‘ was originally a poem called ‘Bitter Fruit‘ by the writer Abel Meeropol and published under the name Lewis Allan. It was a poem of protest against the lynchings of Black Americans with Meeropol having been inspired to write it after seeing a photograph of the bodies of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith hanging from trees, surrounded by the mob who lynched them. He then turned the poem into a song and renamed it ‘Strange Fruit‘. The song was later recorded and popularised by Billie Holiday who at great risk of reprisal, recorded ‘Strange Fruit‘ in 1939 and performed it live from that point on. She became intrinsically linked with the song and it became one of the defining recordings of her career. The song has since been covered numerous times but the most famous performance of it after Holiday’s is arguably the one recorded by Nina Simone in 1965 for her album ‘Pastel Blues‘. It was Nina Simone‘s version of ‘Strange Fruit‘ which was sampled by Alix Perez on his 2006 track ‘Magnolias‘, released on Irish Drum & Bass label Bassbin. Here, parts of Nina Simone’s vocal are taken and repeated at points throughout the track. Less prominent than a lead vocal would be, they are sat further back and Simone‘s already haunting vocal performance is heavily effected to become almost ethereal.

Nina Simone’s 1965 album ‘Pastel Blues’

The personnel on ‘Pastel Blues‘ was Nina Simone on piano and vocals, Bobby Hamilton on drums, Lisle Atkinson on double bass, Al Schackman on guitar and harmonica and Rudy Stevenson on guitar and flute.

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