The Manifestation of Slave Trauma in Lyrics: A Reading of Select Slave Songs

Mala Annamma Mathew


This research paper looks into the effect of slavery, as a traumatic communal experience, on music and lyrics. It focuses on the development of narratives out of the collective memory of trauma in the African-American community; which in turn worked first as a tool for freedom and evolved to function as cure and testimony. It addresses the issue of trauma being imbibed into a collective consciousness of a culture and its reflection in the narratives. The research paper looks at narratives used as escape slave codes and deconstructs them. While the primary text used to understand cultural trauma is the lyrics to the song “Strange Fruit” sung by Billie Holiday and written by Abel Meeropol. Trauma theories by Cathy Caruth, Jeffrey C. Alexander and Toni Morrison are used to understand how trauma is manifested in lyrics. The research paper will also look into the account of Billie Holiday to understand the development of Strange Fruit as an anthem and how she performed the song for racially integrated audiences when she felt that the song would receive its due.


Slavery, Trauma, Lyrics, Collective trauma, Cultural trauma, Music

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