Listen. There’s no introduction to Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit,” only a single note. Her voice emerges. Rough. Direct. Accusing. Denouncing. Her entire performance is predicated on the tightly controlled breath: each word bears the weight of her lungs, none left unarticulated or lost among the bitter poignancy of images made into word.

Placing Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit” is an effort in trying to place breath. Simone’s interpretation is no wail or cry. Hers is a performance steeped in a Black tradition of breathing, born of centuries of fugitivity and bearing the scars of a people trying to live in hostile atmospheres. Her “for the leaves to drop” extends “leaves” for a full seven seconds, voice a decrescendo like the wind wailing before a storm or the scream of a siren. Her guttural energy, baptized in anger and disgust...

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