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Music

Listen to Nina Simone's breathtaking isolated vocals on 'Strange Fruit'

@jackwhatley89

Scrolling through the endless timeline of new pop figures, it is hard not to feel despondent. Not because the stars in question aren’t talented, they invariably are, but because there is near to no chance that any of them will ever compete with some of the icons of the past. One singer stands out from even that pack, the incomparable Nina Simone, truly one of the greatest singers to have stepped onto this green earth.

“I have to constantly re-identify myself to myself, reactivate my own standards, my own convictions about what I’m doing and why,” Simone once proclaimed. Her conscious evolution and reclamation of self are probably what helped the singer stay relevant for decades and become a pivotal pillar of creative defiance and artistic rebellion. However, as ever, it was her talent that provided her with a platform for evolution and revolution. Simone’s talent was always her sparkling singing voice.

Born in a family that struggled with poverty in North Carolina, Simone nurtured the dream of being a classical pianist with aspirations of a better life. After leaving the Julliard School of Music in New York, it was made clear to her that her dream was too demanding for a Black woman living in a racially segregated country. Though shattered from this cruel revelation, Simone refused to give up music, the only thing that made her feel free. She “re-identified” herself from a pianist to a vocalist and became an icon with a plethora of impressive songs, including the hauntingly beautiful ‘Strange Fruit’.

Simone was never afraid to cover another artist’s song. In fact, we’d bet that most singers and songwriters would have been as equally proud of Simone taking on their song as they were scared that she would make it her own. In most cases, Simone would take a classic track and completely transform it into an unrecognisable piece of her own iconography. That is certainly the case with ‘Strange Fruit’.

Billie Holiday is the artist that is most intrinsically linked with ‘Strange Fruit’ after she brought it popularised it with her stunning take on the track back in 1939, and it laments the lynching of Black people who are compared to fruit trees in the song.

During the 1960s, Simone paid tribute to Holiday by covering the classic. Sadly, the lyrics were still relevant as Black people fought for their rights to be recognised as equal citizens. She was a key player in the Civil Rights Movement, and the raw emotion in her voice throughout this isolated version of ‘Strange Fruit’ will touch your very soul.

Listen to Nina Simone’s breathtaking isolated vocals on ‘Strange Fruit’ below.