BLACK We see the Out of Frame logo, and an animation that suggest increasing the volume. SEAN Turn your sound on. This episode of Out of Frame is about... Music! CLIP: "SING SING SING" BENNY GOODMAN ORCHESTRA Gene Krupa's pounding drums kick it off. Then the trombones & saxophones enter. SEAN Or... Specifically, how jazz, R&B, and soul musicians smashed cultural barriers and helped America - and the rest of the world - end racial segregation. SEAN But first... Listen to this. The music takes over for a moment. SEAN This is the Benny Goodman Orchestra's most famous recording. "Sing Sing Sing". Carnegie Hall. January 16th, 1938. We see photos of Carnegie Hall & the Benny Goodman Orchestra. SEAN That show was remarkable for several reasons. For one thing, it was the first time big band jazz had ever been taken seriously as art music. Just like today, Carnegie Hall was considered a venue for only the most critically acclaimed performers. And unfortunately, Big Band was seen as little more than pop-music for unruly teenagers. For many people at the time, even worse, it was "black" or "Negro" music. Nothing could have been less acceptable for such a prestigious venue. But even so, on a cold winter's night in the heart of New York City, Goodman's concert at Carnegie Hall solidified jazz as one of the most significant forms of American music. And... Something else happened that was even more important. Benny Goodman took the stage with his entire band... CLIP: "I GOT RHYTHM" BENNY GOODMAN QUARTET We see a clip of Lionel Hampton's incredible solo from the 1959 version of the song. SEAN ...Including pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Then we see images of all the other musicians listed. SEAN Not only that, Benny Goodman brought musicians from Duke Ellington and Count Basie's bands on stage as soloists, including Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Cootie Williams, Freddie Green, Bobby Hackett, and Count Basie himself. In front of a sometimes uncomfortable audience of New York City's majority-white elite, Goodman put on the first racially integrated show at a major venue in American history. It's actually fitting that this happened at Carnegie Hall. Cut to images of Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, and the Tuskegee Institute. SEAN When the Scottish-American industrialist billionaire Andrew Carnegie established the venue in 1890, he said, "Here, all good causes may find a platform." He meant it. Andrew Carnegie's friend and fellow entrepreneur Booker T. Washington took that stage more than a dozen times to raise money for African American education. Carnegie himself used his considerable wealth to help fund Washington's Tuskegee Institute. We see images of racial protests and backlash. SEAN But for most of American society, racial integration was still decades away. Even so... Musicians were always ahead of the curve. Following Benny Goodman's lead, white and black-led jazz groups continued to play integrated concerts throughout the US at the height of Jim Crow - often risking backlash, violent protests, and arrest. Show WWII footage. SEAN But in the wake of World War II, American culture started to evolve... As did its taste in music. CLIP: "GIANT STEPS" BY JOHN COLTRANE SEAN By the 1950s, "jazz" split away from Big Band, simultaneously moving towards more harmonically complex forms like Be-Bop featuring virtuoso players like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker... And into the more laid-back Cool Jazz style that was becoming popular on the West Coast featuring guys like Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. CLIP: "TAKE FIVE" DAVE BRUBECK For this section we'll need many photos of Brubeck and his band in it's late 50s incarnation featuring Gene Wright, Paul Desmond, and Joe Morello. SEAN Particularly with his groundbreaking album "Time Out", Brubeck's massive commercial success as a recording artist created opportunities to perform in major venues across the country. Including throughout the South. Only... One problem... His bass player, Gene Wright, was black. Show Brubeck's Army band photos. Then photos of Segregation. SEAN This was nothing new for Brubeck -- he'd led the Army's first fully integrated band during the war. But when he got home, he saw how his friends and colleagues were treated in more stark terms. We see photos or video of the colleges that Brubeck was supposed to play, and footage from the Bell Telephone Hour. SEAN In 1958, Brubeck was told that he had to fire Gene Wright in order to play university concerts at Georgia Tech, Louisiana State University, and Memphis State. The Bell Telephone Hour also invited his Quartet to perform on TV, under the same conditions. Brubeck refused. In 1960, the Dave Brubeck Quartet had to cancel 23 out of 25 concerts on a tour of Southern Universities. It cost the band over a third of a million dollars in today's money, but it cost each of those venues more --and not just in lost revenue. Legally mandated segregation limited the acts that could, or even would even be willing to play in the South, and those club owners and their customers missed the opportunity to hear the greatest performers of their generation. CLIP: "GEORGIA ON MY MIND" RAY CHARLES A year later, in 1961, Ray Charles famously refused to play in Augusta, Georgia when the management at Bell Auditorium told him that the dance floor would be reserved for whites only. You see this thread running throughout the history of American music... And it makes sense. Musicians don't need to care what anybody looks like as long as they can play. But there's more to it than that. Commercial incentives played a huge - and often unappreciated - role in the cultural shift towards integration. We see shots of Sam Phillips of Sun Records, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton of Stax Records, and Berry Gordy of Motown Records. SEAN Newly accessible recording technology allowed entrepreneurial producers like Sam Phillips, Jim Stewart, and Berry Gordy to bring new styles of music like Blues, Country, Gospel, and Soul to audiences around the world. These guys wanted to make great music, but they also wanted to make money. What a lot of those audiences didn't know is that the new music they were hearing on the radio coming from Sun Studios, Stax, and Motown records were racially integrated bands... The music we often think of as "white" or "black" is, in fact, the product of racial and cultural integration and wouldn't be possible without the unique personal experiences and perspectives of the writers, performers, and producers. CLIP: "GREEN ONIONS" BOOKER T. AND THE MGS SEAN In 1962, two years before the Civil Rights Act in the heart of Jim Crow South, the song “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs became a major hit featuring the talents of a black organist and drummer, and a white guitar and bass player in Memphis. We see images of the players. SEAN Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson, Jr., Steve Cropper, and Donald “Duck” Dunn went on to have such a profound impact on popular music that John Lennon and Paul McCartney repeatedly cited them as one of the most significant influences for The Beatles. Even today, I think a lot of people would be surprised to see the people behind some of the most famous recordings. But that's really the point. In the end, it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is how the music makes you feel. SEAN As I’ve thought about the history of music over the years, I’ve come to see it as one of the greatest tools for cross-cultural unification humans have ever created. Louis Armstrong loved the Opera. Duke Ellington drew from European classical composers in his own music... And Benny Goodman worked with Fletcher Henderson and Billie Holiday before anyone else knew who they were. The whole genre of jazz is a mix of African, Caribbean, and European folk and classical influences that fostered cooperation and mutual respect at a time when most of American society was brutally segregated. In a 1989 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Dave Brubeck said: "Jazz stands for freedom. It's supposed to be the voice of freedom." That's true in more ways than one. The very essence of jazz is freedom. It represents a celebration of individual voices and improvisation. Jazz as an artform is built on the idea that free people exploring the limits of their creativity can produce greatness. It's the musical equivalent of what economists call "spontaneous order"... The point is... The individual performers matter. SEAN The Dave Brubeck Quartet without Gene Wright... The Benny Goodman Orchestra without Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson... Booker T. without the MGs... Gladys Knight without Bob Babbit... Stevie Wonder without Carol Kaye... None of these groups would have sounded the same. So it's no surprise that jazz, R&B, and soul musicians would be the first to disregard the arbitrary restrictions imposed on society by law and bring people of all backgrounds together in service of both art and commerce. Of course, all the styles that evolved out of jazz like modern Blues, R&B, and eventually Rock & Roll, could only have developed in a society that, however imperfectly, valued freedom -- Indeed, this music has been banned at one point or another in most of the least free parts the world like the USSR, Afghanistan, China, North Korea, and Cuba... Authoritarians are always fearful of anything that elevates individuals above their collective identity. And that's the nature of this kind of music. Finally, we see a montage of photos of musicians like Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Tower of Power, SEAN As much as people praise the US government for the civil rights movement, the truth is, politicians reacted very slowly to changes in culture, and the eventual policy shift toward integration and equal rights came after decades of powerful examples like these -- of brave artists and entrepreneurs who cared more about the character and skills of individual people than the color of their skin. BUMPER: OUT OF FRAME LOGO SEAN Thanks for watching this episode of Out of Frame. There are so many incredible stories of artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs leading important cultural changes, and I could only get to a few in this video. What are some of your favorite stories? Leave a comment below and let's start a conversation. And if you want to see more video essays like this, hit that subscribe button and check us out as @FEEonline on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. See you next time!

Out of Frame


About this show

Video essays that explore the intersection of art, culture, and big ideas written & produced by FEE's Director of Media, Sean W. Malone.

How Musicians Smashed The Cultural Barrier

February 1, 2018

Music is one of the greatest tools for cross-cultural communication that humans have ever created. Society resisted racial integration for nearly its entire existence. And of course it wasn’t politicians who introduced change and progress—it was actually musicians. Innovative musicians preceding the civil rights movement set the tone for how we now connect with individuals who look different from us. After all, the only thing that matters to music lovers is how the music makes you feel. 

Written & Produced by Sean W. Malone
Edited by Jaye Davidson & Sean W. Malone

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