Friday, January 05, 2007

Music can help change the world

The Vienna Philharmonic’s glacial progress towards appointing female players reminds me both of how far we have travelled in the last forty years in the areas of race and equality, and how far we still have to go.

In 1968 Harry Belafonte, whose album Calypso was the first LP to sell more than 1 million, appeared on a primetime CBS television special hosted by British singer Petula Clark. In the show, the two singers performed a duet, and Petula Clark held on to Belafonte's arm, as my still from the programme shows here. After the first take the director asked them to repeat the song, standing apart. It transpired that an executive from the show's sponsor, an automobile manufacturer, saw the first take and ordered it to be re-shot. His reason was that showing a white woman touching an African-American might adversely affect car sales in southern states.


An outraged Petula Clark and her husband Claude Wolff, the show's executive producer, destroyed all the takes except the first one. The transmission went ahead with the original duet, and the programme achieved very high viewing figures following press exposure of the sponsor's attempted inteference. But Belafonte was less successful when he used footage of the violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention in a Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour programme - CBS cut the sequence before the show was broadcast.

Harry Belafonte refused to perform in the southern states of the US between 1954 and 1961, and was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King. He has been a vociferous opponent of the current Bush administration, and has criticised the African-Americans holding senior positions in it. Belafonte has also controversially supported the regime of Hugo Chav├ęz, President of Venezuela, a country that has received international praise for its progressive music education.

For more on 1968 read Notes of a College Revolutionary.
Image credit Belafontetracks. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

3 comments:

Bodie Pfost said...

Indeed, Harry Belafonte, and other pop music icons, have made a difference, and continue to, but what comparable influence have classical musicians had in the last 50 years? ... the last 100 years?

Pliable said...

Nice to see this story getting a heads-up, and quite a few visitors, from a Lib Dem political blog in the UK.

tris said...

As Europeans Petula and Claude were at first bemused and then angry and embarrassed by the slight to their guest.

Petula had been hugely flattered by Harry's acceptance of the invitation to be on her show. She was mortified at his treatment.

She recently guested, along with Claude, at a lecture in New York to discuss the show and the effect that it had on the Civil Rights Movement, on the 40th anniversary of its screening.

Of course she had no idea that she was doing any more than insisting that a colleague be treated with respect, and that the best 'take' be used.