Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black History Month: The Nat King Cole Show & Marian Anderson

By J9 of J9's MusicLife

To celebrate Black History month, through February check out a series of features acknowledging parts of black history as it relates to music.

The Nat King Cole Show, First Variety Show to Feature Black Star

The Nat King Cole Show premiered on NBC on November 5, 1956.  It was the first TV variety show to star a major black entertainer, Nat King Cole.  Hazel Scott (in 1950) and Billy Daniels (in 1952) were black hosts who tried it before but they were as famous as Cole and didn't have much success.  Cole, at the time, was the highest paid black star in America and one of the most successful entertainers in the world.  Before the Nat King Cole Show, blacks were portrayed as dumb stereotypes like in the shows Amos n' Andy and Beulah.

The 15 minute weekly show debuted during a time when there was still legal segregation in the South.  The show didn't have commercial sponsorship because many viewers and advertisers didn't want to support a show with a black host.  Despite the low ratings and lack of national sponsors, NBC kept the show on air (oh how things have changed today).  The network fit the bill hoping this would eventually change. 

In December, the network increased the show to 30 minutes thinking this would boast ratings.  Along with Cole, the show featured other black and white musical artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Mahailia Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Bennett.  To support Cole and the show, many of these acts agreed to get paid minimum wage.

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Marian Anderson is Denied to Sing in Constitution Hall

Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an American contralto from Philadelphia, PA.  She is known to be one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century.  Anderson made her debut at the New York Philharmonic on August 26, 1925 and and in 1928, she sang for the first time at Carnegie Hall.

In 1939, Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for racial equality when she was denied permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall, in Washington, D.C. cause of her race.

The public was outraged, famous musicians protested, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR.  With the help of Roosevelt and the NAACP, Anderson gave a free open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  With Lincoln as her backdrop, she sang My Country 'Tis of Thee before a crowd of 75,000 people and million of radio listeners.  This performance is considered one of the most dramatic civil-rights spectacles ever.

To read more click here.

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