Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blacklisted Musicians

Although we tend to throw the term "blacklisting" around a lot, it's actually a hard term to define. During McCarthyism there was rarely a concrete "list" of people unfit for employment due to left-wing associations. Senator McCarthy's own list of Communists in the State Department famously fluctuated based on the time of day and how much he'd had to drink. We might think of blacklists as more of a threshold--the line at which mutterings about an individual's loyalties became a distraction to corporate sponsorships. And of course, anti-communist persecution took many other more insidious forms than simple blacklisting.

But in the entertainment industry, there was one concrete blacklist that was tremendously influential, and therefore tremendously damaging to the careers of those on it. Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television was published in 1950 by a group that called themselves the "American Business Consultants." Like many anti-communist groups during McCarthyism, the forces behind the publication were somewhat mysterious; it seems to have been made up of conservative industry executives based in New York, with the help of some former (and probably some current) FBI agents. It is simply a list of 151 names, job titles, and a list of the individual's transgressions, most of which took the form of having signed petitions or lent their names to honorary boards and the like. Unlike some attempts at such blacklists, this one was taken up with enthusiasm by Hearst newspapers, and was widely publicized.

You might be interested, as I was, in how many musicians were on the list. Here they are, together with their job titles as printed in the book. (Which can be amusing; Gypsy Rose Lee is listed officiously as a "Strip Teaser.") In this list I included performers like Zero Mostel and Martin Wolfson, who weren't necessarily known as musicians, per se, but who had successful careers in musical theater.

Larry Adler, Harmonica Player
Leonard Bernstein, Composer, Conductor
Marc Blitzstein, Playwright, Composer
Oscar Brand, Folk Singer. Master of Ceremonies on folk song program
Aaron Copland, Composer, Writer
Dean Dixon, Musician, Conductor
Olin Downes, Music Critic of NY Times
Alfred Drake, Actor, Singer, "Kiss Me Kate"
Richard Dyer-Bennett, Folk singer
Tom Glazer, Folk Singer and Song Writer
Morton Gould, Composer of popular music
Horace Grenell, Musician, Children's Record Guild. Formerly President of Young People's Records
E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Composer--Stage, Screen
Lena Horne, Singer--Stage, Screen, Radio
Burl Ives, Folk Singer, Entertainer
Felix Knight, Singer--Radio, Opera
Tony Kraber, Guitar Player
John La Touche, Writer, Lyricist--Radio, Stage. Co-Author, "Ballad for Americans"
Ray Lev, Concert Pianist
Ella Logan, Singer--Radio, Stage
Alan (Allan) Lomax, Folk Singer--Composer--Author book, "Mister Jelly Roll"
Zero Mostel, Comedian
Lynn Murray, Choral Director, Radio Composer
Earl Robinson, Singer, Composer. Wrote score for "Ballad for Americans"; also for motion pictures "The Roosevelt Story" and "A Walk in the Sun"
Harold Rome, Composer
Hazel Scott, Pianist, Singer
Pete Seeger, Folk Singer
Artie Shaw, Orchestra Leader
Josh White, Singer of Folk Songs
Ireene Wicker, "The Singing Lady"
Martin Wolfson, Actor--Radio, TV, Stage--"South Pacific"

You'll have to wait for "the book" if you want the analysis! But I will say this--there are only 31 names on this list. Blacklisting in the music industry worked very differently then in Hollywood, or TV.


Daniel Wolf said...

Dean Dixon's case is especially egregious, as racism left him doubly blacklisted. He is perhaps the most important American conductor not to have held a music directship at a major orchestra in the US. The memories of his tenure here in Frankfurt, from 1961 to 1974 are still very warm.

Gray said...

I talk a little about Burl Ives in my dissertation. He didn't seem to learn anything from his inclusion in Red Channels, since in 1952 he ratted out Pete Seeger to HUAC.

If you visit burlives.com, which seems to be the closest thing available to an official web presence for Ives's estate, you'll notice it's run by someone whose political views seem to be pretty far away from Ives's purported politics.

PMG said...

Frankly, the presence of all of the black musicians on this list is particularly egregious--most of them were listed simply because they were active in civil rights stuff, and sometimes only mildly so.

I understand that Rufus Jones, at Georgetown, is working on a biography of Dixon.

Gray--I'd love to read what you say about Burl Ives.

Rebecca said...

I don't want to wait for "the book." I'm buying you a drink in Philly. :) This is fascinating---Harold Rome (haven't thought about him since I bought the soundtrack to Pins and Needles in high school).

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Anonymous said...

In Los Angeles, there has been a terrible injustice being done to local musician, Baritone Bill Wright. So much so, in fact, that references to him have been removed from this blog. Contact Local 47 in Los Angeles and demand freedom to work as a musician for Baritone Bill Wright!