Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On playing Billie Holiday, Lisa and Percy and Eyes on the Prize

I used to play Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" when we talked about the lynch mob that Atticus and the kids stopped from getting to Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I would also pass out the lyrics for us to discuss them and their relevance to the book and the time period in the book. Only a few of my students knew who she was (those kids like Peter, Rhett or Cate who seemed to something about almost everything) and fewer still had listened to her.  I could tell they weren't sure if I had lost my sanity when  I would insist to them she had a haunting beautiful voice that is really impossible to duplicate, in my opinion, by anyone else.

Years later I was out  to dinner with Lisa, an attorney, and Percy,an engineer,  who were laughing about it. I hadn't used it in Lisa's class but did in Percy 's and Percy was talking about how beautiful her voice was and how he got it but he knew most of the others didn't.  Of course, they followed that up with their childhood memories of wanting to watch cartoons or Disney or a sitcom and instead having to watch Eyes on the Prize.  In fact among the three of us in the multiple classes  I had them and afterwards it became a running joke. If I asked if anyone had seen Lion King, so I could talk about the monomyth they would announce, "too busy watching Eyes on the Prize.  If I used other Disney movies for stereotypes,I got, "No, Eyes on the Prize.  If I asked what were you doing last night, "watching Eyes on the Prize."   I always imagined if I had ever received late work which I didn't, I would hear, "it was time to watch Eyes on the Prize."

I am still hoping that someone besides this brother and sister duo got something out of "Strange Fruit."  I also hope that someone remembered Billie Holiday and tried her later and found her to be as hauntingly beautiful in looks and voice as I have found her.

Her photographs were taken by everyone from that time period but I think two of the best are naturally Herman Leonard and Chuck Stewart.

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