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Strange Fruit: Susan Sarandon on Muhammad Ali’s Legacy; Electric Lady Janelle Monáe

It's been a star-studded week for Team Strange Fruit! We spent some time recently on the red carpet at the 2nd Annual Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards, where we got to chat with celebrities and honorees about the Champ's civil rights legacy.

Ali famously refused service in the U.S. Army when he was drafted during the Vietnam War, claiming conscientious objector status. The Army denied his claim, and Ali was found guilty of refusing induction, stripped of his World Boxing Association heavyweight championship title, and banned from the sport for nearly four years—at what would seem to be the peak of his athletic career. (Here's a great timeline of Ali's life.)

This week on the show you'll hear us check in with Susan Sarandon, who was honored with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Global Citizenship. She pointed out the significance of Ali's actions. "You just do not see celebrities or athletes putting themselves on the line the way that he did," she explained.

"If you look at the context in which he came forward, it was so heavy and so brave of him to take the stance that he did, when the country was on fire with so much racism, and the Vietnam War was so divisive."

 We also chatted with The Today Show's Matt Lauer, and were completely charmed by Kid President. (We didn't have room for all our red carpet interviews in the main show this week, so check our playlist at the bottom of the post for interviews with Holly Robinson Peete, Jim Brown, William Mapother, and more, as bonus fruit.)

For our feature interview, we speak to the Electric Lady herself, Janelle Monáe, who was in Louisville for IdeaFestival. She and some of of her compatriots from the Wondaland Arts Society spoke to a group of young people in a session devoted to improving the world by the year 2035.

She has famously avoided questions about her sexual orientation, preferring instead to eschew labels. We caught up with her in the green room before her presentation, and asked her why.

"First of all, I think it's boring," she said. "Although I wear black and white, I know that my life is not black and white. We're complex beings."

She also explained her use of alter-ego Cindi Mayweather as a metaphor for oppressed peoples, and gave us one of our favorite quotes ever, on the subject of women: "We come in peace, but we mean business."

And finally, for this week's Juicy Fruit, we were joined in the Strange Fruit Studios by the WWE star Damien Sandow (That's his character name, but he graciously started off the segment with, "I'm off today, so you can call me Aaron if you want.")

We asked for his take on the recent attention on athletes and domestic violence. "When you're on television, when you play for a sports team, you're gonna have people—especially children—that look up to you, whether you like it or not. And that is a responsibility, in my opinion."

Speaking of children, Aaron spends a lot of his time in schools, talking with kids about making good choices and helping each other. He was also at the Ali Awards and made a donation to the center after attending.

"It's a history lesson," he says about the center. "And also it's a testament to the man. And that man has inspired so many people."

We know the phrase 'gentle giant' is clichéd, but it does come to mind when you meet Aaron—at least outside the ring. We're glad he's making Louisville his home, and can't wait to see what he might do next.

Strange Fruit can now be heard on 89.3 WFPL in Louisville (and live streaming at  wfpl.org) on Saturday nights at 10 p.m.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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