Chamblee54

Billie Holiday Stories

Posted in History, Library of Congress, Music, Race by chamblee54 on February 24, 2018


How ‘Strange Fruit’ Killed Billie Holiday turned up in a facebook feed yesterday. The article states that Harry Jacob Anslinger “the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” ordered Billie Holiday to quit performing “Strange Fruit.” When the chanteuse declined, Mr. Anslinger had her arrested for heroin possession. Later, Mr. Anslinger was allegedly responsible for busting Miss Holiday on her deathbed.

The Hunting of Billie Holiday was the source given for the claim about Mr. Anslinger and “Strange Fruit.” The Politico article does not say that Mr. Anslinger ordered Miss Holiday to quit singing “Strange Fruit.” It does say that Louis McKay, one of the many no-good men in Miss Holiday’s life, narked her out. The bust was in 1947, after she had been performing “Strange Fruit” for several years.

Politico had one comment that set off the bs detector. “One day, Harry Anslinger was told that there were also white women, just as famous as Billie, who had drug problems—but he responded to them rather differently. He called Judy Garland, another heroin addict, in to see him.” Frances Gumm was well known for having substance abuse issues. The heroin business was news to a lot of people.

Johann Hari was the author of the politico article. At the time, he was promoting a book, Chasing the Scream, about the war on drugs. Johann Hari has a spotted reputation. “The author used to be the Independent’s star columnist, a prolific polemicist and darling of the left, until his career imploded in disgrace when it emerged in 2011 that many of his articles contained quotes apparently said to him but in fact lifted from his interviewees’ books, or from previous interviews by other journalists.”

The final bust, as Miss Holiday lay dying in the hospital, is part of the legend. A google search does not show what agency was responsible. Harry Anslinger may have been involved, and it may have been someone else. By this time, Elanora Fagan was in bad, bad shape. Years of drinking, and hard drugs, had worn her out. While the hospital bust may have hastened her demise, it is a bit of a stretch to say the Harry Anslinger killed Billie Holiday, because she sang “Strange Fruit.”

Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.

3 Responses

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  1. Lady Sings The Blues | Chamblee54 said, on March 27, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    […] many other men in her life, McKay used Holiday’s name and money to advance himself.” Louis McKay is at the center of another misunderstanding of facts. The Hunting of Billie Holiday claimed that […]

  2. Billie Holiday Stories | Chamblee54 said, on February 3, 2019 at 7:59 am

    […] to say the Harry Anslinger killed Billie Holiday, because she sang “Strange Fruit.” This is a repost. Pictures today are from The Library of […]

  3. Billie Holiday Stories | Chamblee54 said, on February 26, 2020 at 10:16 am

    […] many other men in her life, McKay used Holiday’s name and money to advance himself.” Louis McKay is at the center of another misunderstanding of facts. The Hunting of Billie Holiday claimed that […]


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