This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
April 20 is the 110th day of the year (111th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 255 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1939, Billie Holiday records the first Civil Rights song “Strange Fruit”.
“Strange Fruit” was written by the teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem, it condemned American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Such lynchings had occurred chiefly in the South but also in all other regions of the United States. He set it to music and with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, performed it as a protest song in New York venues, including Madison Square Garden.
The song has been covered by numerous artists, as well as inspiring novels, other poems and other creative works. In 1978 Holiday’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In the poem, Meeropol expressed his horror at lynchings, possibly after having seen Lawrence Beitler‘s photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. He published the poem in 1936 in The New York Teacher, a union magazine. Though Meeropol/Allan had often asked others (notably Earl Robinson) to set his poems to music, he set “Strange Fruit” to music himself. The piece gained a certain success as a protest song in and around New York. Meeropol, his wife, and black vocalist Laura Duncan performed it at Madison Square Garden. (Meeropol and his wife later adopted Robert and Michael, sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of espionage and executed by the United States.)
Barney Josephson, the founder of Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, New York’s first integrated nightclub, heard the song and introduced it to Billie Holiday. Other reports say that Robert Gordon, who was directing Billie Holiday’s show at Cafe Society, heard the song at Madison Square Garden and introduced it to her. Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939. She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation, but because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing it. She made the piece a regular part of her live performances. Because of the poignancy of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; second, the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday’s face; and there would be no encore.
Holiday approached her recording label, Columbia, about the song, but the company feared reaction by record retailers in the South, as well as negative reaction from affiliates of its co-owned radio network, CBS. Even John Hammond, Holiday’s producer, refused. She turned to friend Milt Gabler, whose Commodore label produced alternative jazz. Holiday sang “Strange Fruit” for him a cappella, and moved him to tears. Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record it. Frankie Newton’s eight-piece Cafe Society Band was used for the session. Because he was worried that the song was too short, Gabler asked pianist Sonny White to improvise an introduction. Consequently Holiday doesn’t start singing until after 70 seconds. Gabler worked out a special arrangement with Vocalion Records to record and distribute the song.
She recorded two major sessions at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. “Strange Fruit” was highly regarded. In time, it became Holiday’s biggest-selling record. Though the song became a staple of her live performances, Holiday’s accompanist Bobby Tucker recalled that Holiday would break down every time after she sang it
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
1303 – The University of Rome La Sapienza is instituted by Pope Boniface VIII.
1453 – The last naval battle in Byzantine history occurs, as three Genoese galleys escorting a Byzantine transport fight their way through the huge Ottoman blockade fleet and into the Golden Horn.
1526 – The last ruler of the Lodi Dynasty, Ibrahim Lodi was defeated and killed by Babur in the First Battle of Panipat.
1534 – Jacques Cartier begins the voyage during which he discovers Canada and Labrador.
1535 – The Sun Dog phenomenon observed over Stockholm and depicted in the famous painting “Vadersolstavlan”
1653 – Oliver Cromwell dissolves the Rump Parliament.
1657 – Admiral Robert Blake destroys a Spanish silver fleet under heavy fire at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
1657 – Freedom of religion is granted to the Jews of New Amsterdam (later New York City).
1689 – The former King James II of England, now deposed, lays siege to Derry.
1770 – The Georgian king Erekle II, abandoned by his Russian ally Count Totleben, wins a victory over Ottoman forces at Aspindza.
1775 – American Revolutionary War: the Siege of Boston begins, following the battles at Lexington and Concord.
1792 – France declares war on Austria, the beginning of French Revolutionary Wars.
1809 – Two Austrian army corps in Bavaria are defeated by a First French Empire army led by Napoleon I of France at the Battle of Abensberg on the second day of a four day campaign which ended in a French victory.
1810 – The Governor of Caracas declares independence from Spain.
1818 – The case of Ashford v Thornton was concluded, with Abraham Thornton allowed to go free rather than face a retrial for murder, after his demand for trial by battle was upheld.
1828 – Rene Caillie becomes the first non-Muslim to enter Timbouctou.
1836 – U.S. Congress passes an act creating the Wisconsin Territory.
1861 – American Civil War: Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in the United States Army in order to command the forces of the state of Virginia.
1862 – Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard complete the first pasteurization tests.
1865 – Astronomer Pietro Angelo Secchi demonstrates the Secchi disk, which measures water clarity, aboard Pope Pius IX’s yacht, the L’Immaculata Concezion.
1871 – The Civil Rights Act of 1871 becomes law.
1876 – The April Uprising – a key point in the new Bulgarian history, leading to the Russo-Turkish War and the liberation of Bulgaria from ottoman slavery, as an independent part of the Ottoman Empire.
1884 – Pope Leo XIII publishes the encyclical Humanum Genus.
1902 – Pierre and Marie Curie refine radium chloride.
1912 – Opening day for baseball stadiums Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan, and Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.
1914 – 19 men, women, and children die in the Ludlow Massacre during a Colorado coal-miner’s strike.
1916 – The Chicago Cubs play their first game at Weeghman Park (currently Wrigley Field), defeating the Cincinnati Reds 7-6 in 11 innings
1918 – Manfred von Richthofen, aka The Red Baron, shoots down his 79th and 80th victims marking his final victories before his death the following day.
1926 – Western Electric and Warner Bros. announce Vitaphone, a process to add sound to film.
1939 – Adolf Hitler’s 50th birthday is celebrated as a national holiday in Nazi Germany
1939 – Billie Holiday records the first Civil Rights song “Strange Fruit”.
1945 – World War II: US troops capture Leipzig, Germany, only to later cede the city to the Soviet Union.
1945 – World War II: Fuehrerbunker: Adolf Hitler makes his last trip to the surface to award Iron Crosses to boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth.
1961 – Failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion of US-backed troops against Cuba.
1964 – BBC Two launches with the power cut because of the fire at Battersea Power Station.
1968 – English politician Enoch Powell makes his controversial Rivers of Blood speech.
1972 – Apollo 16 landed on the moon commanded by John Young.
1978 – Korean Air Flight 902 is shot down by Soviets.
1980 – Climax of Berber Spring in Algeria as hundreds of Berber political activists are arrested.
1984 – The Good Friday Massacre, an extremely violent ice hockey playoff game, is played in Montreal, Canada.
1985 – ATF raid on The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord compound in northern Arkansas.
1986 – Pianist Vladimir Horowitz performs in his native Russia for the first time in 61 years.
1998 – German terrorist group Red Army Faction announces their dissolution after 28 years.
1999 – Columbine High School massacre: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people and injure 24 others before committing suicide at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado.
2007 – Johnson Space Center Shooting: A man with a handgun barricades himself in NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas before killing a male hostage and himself.
2008 – Danica Patrick wins the Indy Japan 300 becoming the first female driver in history to win an Indy car race.
2010 – Deepwater Horizon oil well explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven workers and beginning an oil spill that would last five months.
* Christian Feast Day:
Agnes of Montepulciano
Blessed Oda of Brabant
April 20 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)
* Ridvan begins at sunset (Bahá’í Faith)
* 4/20, a counter-cultural holiday involving the consumption of cannabis