Spirit of singer proves a no-show

March 28, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

The most telling works come at the end of "God Bless th Child," the Billie Holiday exhibit at the Eubie Blake National Museum and Cultural Center. That's because curator Lotus Do Brooks has placed there the works created in response to "Strange Fruit," Holiday's song about lynching.

Oletha De Vane's "The Lady and Her Song" represents the singer standing in front of the words of the song, "Southern trees bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root . . .," partly printed across a Ku Klux Klan-style hood.

And James Earl Reid, the sculptor of the Holiday statue at Pennsylvania and Lafayette avenues, has contributed two reliefs: God Bless the Child," of a child being held up just after birth, and "Strange Fruit," of a hanged black man.

Otherwise, this is a strangely disappointing show. The curator surely had a difficult job, since there can't be an unlimited amount of art related to Holiday. But what's surprising is that one who sang such emotional music in such a gripping style and had such a turbulent life should have elicited such unmoving art.

There are exceptions. Baltimore's Tom Miller works magic with "I'm Painting the Town Red to Hide a Heart That's Blue." It's a chair with a flower at the upper right, representing Holiday's signature gardenia, and on the seat are two hands holding a blue heart with two notes of music in its center. Underneath the seat front hangs a row of bells.

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