Rebecca Ferguson says yes to singing at Donald Trump's inauguration - as long as she can sing Strange Fruit

British singer Rebecca Ferguson performing in Manchester, Britain, in October 2016.
British singer Rebecca Ferguson performing in Manchester, Britain, in October 2016.PHOTO: AFP

Rebecca Ferguson has said she will sing at Donald Trump's inauguration as US President on one condition - she wants to sing Strange Fruit, the anti-lynching anthem popularised by Billie Holiday.

First recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939 and covered by Nina Simone in 1965, Strange Fruit is one of the US' most famous songs about racism, and paints a disturbing picture of lynching victims.

“Southern trees bear strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

Ferguson – a 30-year-old British singer who became well-known after appearing on Britain's X Factor programme in 2010 and memorably performing Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem A Change Is Gonna Come – called Strange Fruit “a song that speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States” in a Twitter statement introduced with the words “inauguration ceremony”, explaining that she would appear at Trump’s inauguration only if she could sing that song.

"I’ve been asked and this is my answer," said Ferguson, who is mixed-race with a Jamaican father.

"If you allow me to sing Strange Fruit, a song that has huge historical importance, a song that was blacklisted in the United States for being too controversial. A song that speaks to all the disregarded and downtrodden black people in the United States. A song that is a reminder of how love is the only thing that will conquer all the hatred in this world, then I will graciously accept your invitation and see you in Washington. Best Rebecca X."

President-elect Trump has been struggling to get A-listers to appear at his inauguration. Elton John, Gene Simmons and Garth Brooks have all turned down invites, with many major artists aligning themselves with the Hillary Clinton campaign or not wishing to be associated with a Trump presidency.

Strange Fruit was written by a white Jewish man, Abel Meeropol.

According to Holiday, her first performance of the song at New York’s liberal Cafe Society stunned her audience into a slow clap. “There wasn’t even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everybody was clapping,” the singer said.

The grotesque imagery of Strange Fruit would certainly be a powerful statement on the Jan 20 inauguration day of Trump, who has had a rocky relationship with the American black community, said the Huffington Post, adding that it seemed unlikely that the President-elect would agree to Ferguson’s terms. 

So far, the Radio City Rockettes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and singer Jackie Evancho from America’s Got Talent are slated to perform. However, managers of the Rockettes have stated its members are not required to show up, and one member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has quit rather than sing for Trump.

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who was reportedly lined up to perform, has announced he will not be.

Britain's Guardian said the president-elect did not respond to its question of whether Ferguson would be performing Strange Fruit at the inauguration.