"On the night before Billy Holiday was leaving New York, (1957) she told Guy Johnson she was going to sing "Strange Fruit" as her last song. We sat at the dining room table while Guy stood in the doorway.
Billie talked and sang in a hoarse, dry tone the well-known protest song. Her rasping voice and phrasing literally enchanted me. I saw the black bodies hanging from Southern trees. I saw the lynch victims' blood glide from the leaves down the trunks and onto the roots.
Guy interrupted, "How can there be blood at the root?" I made a hard face and warned him, "Shut up, Guy, just listen." Billie had continued under the interruption, her voice vibrating over harsh edges.
She painted a picture of a lovely land, pastoral and bucolic, then added eyes bulged and mouths twisted, onto the Southern landscape.
Guy broke into her song. "What's a pastoral scene, Miss Holiday?" Billie looked up slowly and studied Guy for a second. Her face became cruel, and when she spoke her voice was scornful. "It means when the crackers are killing the niggers. It means when they take a little nigger like you and snatch off his nuts and shove them down his goddamn throat. That's what it means."
The thrust of rage repelled Guy and stunned me.
Billie continued, "That's what they do. That's a goddamn pastoral scene."
Maya Angelou recounting Billy Holiday's conversation with her son.