History: The song is said to be inspired by a photo of lynchings and a poem that contains very similar words to the song. Holiday though would have a tough time getting this song to the audience because of the subject matter, especially with it still be 1939, and a country still bending to racism. She performed the song for the audiences she could though, and even with the fear of how it would be perceived in the South the song would get to listeners. It's still a popular song today even with Time listing it as song of the century.
Vocals: Holiday's vocals sound very unique. They have a smoky and very deep sound that gives her voicing power. The power is needed to just convey how strong the content of the song is. The lyrics by themselves are quite eerie, but when you take the voice and put it on top of that you get something even stronger that resonates with you. I don't think it's the instrumentals that exactly make this the lasting song it has been, but more so the bold message of the time, and the harsh realities of what African Americans were living in the 30's, and for a long time.
Instrumentals: The music has a very jazz sound to it, but with the way the tone of the song is channeled in the instrumentals are very toned down so they don't overwhelm the vocals nor the lyrics. Even during a live performance one venue owner wanted it to be the last song with only the spotlight on her face for the effect to resonate with audiences. With this song it just isn't about the instruments even though they are well played.
Lyrics: The lyrics are dark, and if you look at the poem and image that inspired them it only makes the song a lot darker. Lynchings were still common happenings in the 30's, and up to the Civil Rights movement. It shows how bold Holiday was especially as a woman and African American to be so vocal on something that no one could really not smooth over as not horrific. This song is just a dark look at a history involving America that isn't pretty.
Holiday's song shows why she was one of the power women of her genre. She had songs that moved people and shook up controversy. She even got some people who may have not been listening to listen when they heard this song. Now this song lives on through the hit it became for Holiday, and through the numerous covers and inclusions, even in Kanye West's recent album, which utilizes a cover that Nina Simone did.
Rating 9 of 10.