Sound and vision blog

26 posts categorized "Americas"

08 November 2021

Recording of the week: James Baldwin at the Cambridge Union

By Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

The British Library launches a new web resource this week. It is called 'Speaking Out', and it seeks to explore the spoken word in its most forceful guise: that of the public address.  Through historical archive recordings, together with new essays, we aim to shine a light on the art and power of public speaking in all its forms.

Today's 'Recording of the Week' showcases a landmark speech by the US writer James Baldwin.

On 18 February 1965 Baldwin was invited to speak at the Cambridge University Union. The motion was 'The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro'. His opposite number in the debate was the conservative writer and broadcaster William F. Buckley Jr., a supporter of the racial segregation that existed in the Southern states.

The debate was a significant moment in the story of the US civil rights struggle. Baldwin's speech specifically is among the most celebrated in the history of the Cambridge Union. David Leeming's 1994 biography of Baldwin tells us it received a standing ovation and carried the post-debate vote, receiving 544 votes, as against 184 for Buckley.

Photo of James Baldwin - copyright Getty Images

James Baldwin. Photo copyright © Getty Images. 

Listen to James Baldwin

Audio copyright © James Baldwin Estate

Download Transcript

Founded in 1815, the Cambridge Union Society is the oldest debating society in the world. Speakers are drawn from all walks of public life and include politicians, peers, scientists, journalists, celebrities, experts of all kinds, and student debaters. 

In the summer of 2007, following successful negotiations with the Cambridge Union Society, the collected recordings of more than 600 of the Society's weekly debates were transferred to the care of the British Library. The Society was concerned to find a new permanent home for the collection, lacking the facilities on their own premises for archival storage of the material or the provision of regular public or student access to it.

The period covered is 1963-1999. Although the bulk of the collection is made up of TDK D90 audio cassettes dating from 1983 onwards, there are also many open reel tapes dating from the earlier period (such as the James Baldwin tape, pictured below). 

Photo of James Baldwin tape box

All the recordings are available to listen to at the British Library but you will need to apply for a Reader Pass if you don't already have one.

01 November 2021

Recording of the week: Preserving the Peruvian jarija

This week's selection comes from Catherine Smith, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Last autumn, while cataloguing the Neil Stevenson Collection made in Peru in the early seventies, I gradually started to develop a mental image of Santiago de Chocorvos, a village in the central Peruvian highlands. A few weeks ago, this image was unexpectedly brought into focus by an email containing photographs and accompanying comments sent by Neil himself. It was surprisingly moving to put faces to the voices that had become so familiar.C1103 Neil Stevenson - Men ploughingMaize sowing on terraces in Peru. Men work in groups of three or four turning the earth with a foot-plough - the leaf of a lorry spring lashed to a wooden stick. They chant in rhythm to synchronise the back-breaking work. © Neil Stevenson

The collection consists of Dr Neil Stevenson’s field recordings recorded in and around the village of Santiago de Chocorvos, Huaytará, Huancavelica, Peru, between 1971 and 1972. He was there conducting research on concepts of disease and the recordings mostly document the music and traditions of the region’s various annual agricultural ceremonies and religious festivities throughout the year.

Today’s recording of the week is a jarija work chant, sung during ploughing as part of a Minga ceremony in October 1971. Minga, or Minka, from the Quechua word 'minccacuni' means 'to ask for help promising something in return'. This is a tradition of community work dating back to the Incas. The Minga recorded by Stevenson is the annual maize sowing ceremony held in September and October, to coincide with the rainy season.

The terraced plots on the valley sides are ploughed and sown by a system of reciprocal labour, carried out cooperatively by the landowners. Each owner's plot is ploughed and seeded by his relatives and neighbours. The men plough in groups of three or four, using an Andean foot-plough, called a chakitaklla. The song is intoned by the captain who receives responses from his 'soldiers' [1]. The continuous rhythm of the jarija work chant, along with the chewing of kuka (Quechua for coca leaves) and ‘frequent nips of cane alcohol’ [2] enables the ploughing to carry on at a vigorous pace for several hours.

This excerpt of a jarija, recorded in 1971, is chanted by Faustino Gutiérrez, Justiniano Bautista and accompanying workers:

Jarija chant during ploughing. Minga of Maximo Soto [BL REF C110314 C2]

Meanwhile, women follow the ploughing, breaking up clods of earth with heavy sticks called maqana. They pause from time to time to stand in a group and sing a song called the yarawi into their cupped hands.Women sowing maize on terraced plot in PeruMaize sowing on terraces in Peru. Following the men's ploughing women break up the clods of earth with wooden sticks. Periodically they pause to sing a traditional call and response entreating the fertility of the seeds. © Neil Stevenson

When the ploughing is completed, the workers gather in the corner of a terrace for a maize seed ceremony, during which the women sing the yarawi de semilla (semilla means seed in Spanish). This is followed by a fertility rite, involving the exchanging of flowers. As Stevenson puts it, ‘from this point on there is a general air of licentiousness about the proceedings’ [3]. The men then dig furrows to the rhythm of a slower jarija chant and the women sow the seed.

The work is completed by nightfall and, after further rites, the workers carry the plot owner ‘perched on top of a platform made from crossed foot ploughs’[4] back to his home where they enjoy a large meal of traditional dishes, including one example of each food that the earth provides [5]. After the meal, there is a party involving a singing and dancing competition called the jachua, recordings of which are also in Stevenson’s collection. The songs and joking continue well into the night.

In a letter to the BBC Sound Archive written in 1974, Stevenson indicated that these are rare and ‘probably unique’ recordings of the Minga tradition at this time: ‘the ceremony was previously widely celebrated in this form in Peru but is now found only in a very few places and the complete form, as I have recorded, has not been discovered anywhere else.’ [6]

The ceremony has in fact continued to this day in Santiago de Chocorvos, as this video demonstrates. In this other YouTube video, made by the organisation ‘Quechuata Rimay’, Juan Huachin gives further insight into the tradition. Juan and the interviewer demonstrate a jarija chant at 8 minutes 06 seconds.

Stevenson’s recordings inspired my contribution to the British Library Sound Archive’s NTS radio programme on work songs from around the world. The hour-long selection includes the jarija work chant featured in this post, followed by the equally haunting, yet energetic women’s yarawi song. Like in this modern recording of the ceremony (at 2 minutes 02 seconds), we can hear the men’s jarija in the background whilst the women sing.

Should Dr Neil Stevenson see any of these videos, I can’t help wondering if he might recognise some of the families from fifty years ago. Thank you Neil, for the wonderful recordings, photographs and insights.

Further reading and listening:

[1] Neil I. Stevenson. Andean Village Technology: An Introduction to a Collection of Manufactured Articles from Santiago de Chocorvos, Peru. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, 1974.

[2] Neil Stevenson. Music from Highland Peru. BBC Radio 3, 1974. [BL REF C1103/29 S1 C1]

[3] Ibid.

[4] Neil I. Stevenson. Andean Village Technology: An Introduction to a Collection of Manufactured Articles from Santiago de Chocorvos, Peru. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, 1974.

[5] Neil Stevenson. Music from Highland Peru. BBC Radio 3, 1974. [BL REF C1103/29 S1 C1]

[6] Neil Stevenson. Letter to Jillian M. White, BBC Sound Archive. 25 July 1974.

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28 October 2021

Black History Month – Carlisle and Wellmon

Photo of Carlisle and WellmonCarlisle and Wellmon (BL shelfmark 1SS0009976)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For Black History Month this year, I was delighted to find early recordings of two African American musicians made in London.  The piano duo team of Carlisle and Wellmon made recordings for Columbia over one hundred years ago in November 1912.

Born in North Carolina in 1883, Harry Wellmon was already established in London as a song composer while still in his early twenties in 1906.  He had previously worked at the Harlem River Casino in New York City but, as with many African American performers, found far more job opportunities in Britain and Europe.  In London, from his premises at 47 Oxford Street he wrote songs for famous music hall stars of the day including Victoria Monks. 

Sheet music of I never lose my temperBL shelfmark H.3988.r.(43)

Wellmon returned to the United States in 1909 for a year but was back in England where a son was born on the south coast in Southsea in November 1911 the mother being Lilian Riley, a confectioner’s assistant.  He formed the piano duo Carlisle and Wellmon around 1910 and must have been popular as they recorded for Columbia in November 1912.  However, Wellmon had many pursuits, primarily as a composer and music publisher, and the duo made their last appearance at the Lewisham Hippodrome in December 1915 while Wellmon continued as a solo performer the following week.  In the early 1920s he appeared in Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Bratislava and Zagreb, Bombay, the Netherlands and South America.  He appears to have returned to the United States in 1935.

George Horace Carlisle was born in Minnesota, also in 1883, and had previously toured Britain with another performer as Carlisle and Baker.  It is claimed that he was a pupil of the great piano teacher Theodore Leschetizky (1830-1915) in Vienna - whose pupils include Paderewski and Ignaz Friedman - but Carlisle's name does not appear in Leschetizky’s personal lists of pupils or his diaries. 

Leschetizky did have a few African American students.  One was Raymond Augustus Lawson (1875-1959) who was educated at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee from where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree.  He then studied at the Hartford Conservatory of Music graduating in 1900.  Whilst in Germany he met Ossip Gabrilowitsch (Leschetizky pupil and son in law of Mark Twain) who in the summer of 1911 introduced Lawson to Leschetizky.  After playing for the great master, Leschetizky declared, ‘I know that Americans are great technicians, but Mr Lawson is a poet.’  As was often the way, Leschetizky heard a pianist once, then passed them to one of his assistants for instruction, and this may have happened to George Carlisle.  He seems to have stayed in England and died during a piano audition at the Royal Oak Hotel in Ramsgate in 1963, an obituary claiming he was born in Bermuda and in his sixties: he was actually 80 years of age.

Carlisle and Wellmon made six sides for Columbia in 1912, all of their own compositions, most of which were published between 1910 and 1913.  Four are of their own songs – 'Kiss me Right', 'Go ‘Way Meddlesome Moon', 'A Prescription for Love' and 'Why Do You Wait for Tomorrow?' 

Sheet music of Go way meddlesome moonBL shelfmark H.3990.c.(6)

The remaining two sides are piano only - Chip-Chip Two Step and March, and an arrangement of the Sextette from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti – ‘in Ragtime.’  This disc was issued as Columbia 2054 in 1912 but re-issued on their cheaper Regal label in February 1914 and remained in the catalogue until August 1918.

Label of Regal disc Lucia SextetteRegal Label (BL shelfmark 9CS0000242)

The performance is only in ragtime for the last half of the recording.  The first part is in ‘classical’ style and the switch to ragtime is not such a jolt as one might expect due to the fact that it is played in a strict ragtime style – not too fast, with a firm and controlled rhythm.  With the ragtime revival of the 1970s we learnt that Scott Joplin did not want his rags played fast and directed the player so at the beginning of his scores.  Few solo piano disc recordings of ragtime survive from the era and a recording of Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag played by the United States Marine Band from 1909 is taken at a swift tempo.  Carlisle and Wellmon’s performance has elements of Joplin's direction and even though played at a crowd-pleasing tempo with dazzling contrary motion chromatic scales, there are underlying elements of the strict ragtime style from ten years before.

Sextette from Lucia mp3

Thanks to James Methuen Campbell for the Leschetizky information.

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14 June 2021

Recording of the week: A Yanomami ceremonial dialogue

This week's selection comes from Finlay McIntosh, World & Traditional Rights intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

In 1978, the writer, musician and scholar David Toop travelled to the Upper Orinoco region in the Venezuelan Amazon to record the Yanomami indigenous people and their songs, rituals and ceremonies.

While these recordings were released on the album Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978), Toop also kindly donated the unedited field recordings to the British Library, where they have been digitised through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Toop writes:

I’m very happy that my Yanomami recordings will be available for digital access for two reasons. One is that the Yanomami are again undergoing a crisis due to the combined effects of the pandemic and a ruthless encroachment into their territory by illegal mining, so any attention focused on the Yanomami is a good thing. The second reason is connected to the first. I believe all people can benefit from exposure to the rich and diverse forms of encounter, counsel and negotiation that exist or have existed in world cultures, unfamiliar or strange as they may seem, because they can suggest alternate ways of listening to others, gaining understanding and resolving apparently intractable problems. Any narrowing of listening models is a bad thing.

Torokoiwa and daughter
Torokoiwa (a Yanomami shaman) and daughter. Photograph by Odile Laperche.

One of the recordings that stood out to me was his recording of wayamou – a type of ceremonial dialogue that the Yanomami use to negotiate relationships, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between different communities.

Wayamou is conducted at night and is performed in pairs, with one member from each community taking part. One participant will lead, and depending on whether the communities are on good or bad terms, he will criticise and reprimand the other participant, or submit requests and proposals to them.

The speaker will adopt a heavily metaphorical manner of speaking to conduct these conversations diplomatically and avoid addressing sensitive subjects too directly. The other participant will then repeat the phrases, words and syllables uttered by the speaker – sometimes identically and sometimes with slight variations – to show agreement with the speaker or at least an understanding of his point of view.

Afterwards, the participants swap roles so both have a chance to speak. The pair is then replaced by series of other pairs and discussions continue throughout the night.

It is a duel of persuasion and negotiation, where participants have the opportunity to put words, ideas and desires in each other’s mouth. Ideally, by dawn, solutions or compromises to the communities’ problems will have been reached.

Wayamou, recorded by David Toop [BL REF C1162/8 C1]

The controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon once described wayamou as: “something like a fast game of Ping-Pong, with the melodic, staccato phrases as the ball.”

We hear how the speakers throw these words and phrases between each other, creating colliding rhythms and echoing crescendos that are abruptly punctuated with sharp accents.

At certain points, you can even hear the respondent replying so fast that he is speaking at the same time as the lead participant, guessing what the lead is saying before he has even said it.

I was so enthralled by this amazingly fast and complex dialogue that I didn’t even stop to think about what they could be saying. However, when reading the liner notes to Lost Shadows, I was surprised to learn that there was a false start to the recording:

The recording seems to be going well, but Emilio jumps up, clearly angry, and stops them. What they have been saying is that the foreigners are stupid to want to record their music and they are going to trick us out of many gifts.

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. Here the wayamou had been stripped of its social function: there was no relationship to negotiate, no conflict to resolve or peace to maintain. When asked to perform under these conditions, what would there be to speak about?

Even if they are just talking about how foreigners are stupid to want to record their music, it is still an undeniably captivating recording ... and I don’t think we are stupid for wanting to listen to it!

If you are interested in learning more about the Yanomami, photographer Claudia Andujar’s exhibition The Yanomami Struggle will be running at the Barbican from June 17 to August 29 2021. Filmmaker and anthropologist Luiz Bolognesi’s film A Última Floresta (The Last Forest) will also be showing at the Berlinale on 19 and 20 June, 2021.

Further reading and listening:

Kelly Luciani, José Antonio. 2017. “On Yanomami Ceremonial Dialogues: A Political Aesthetic of Metaphorical Agency.” Journal de la Société des Américanistes 103, no. 1: 179-214.

Chagnon, Napoleon A. 1992. Yanomamö: The Last Days of Eden. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Toop, David. 2015. Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978). Sub Rosa.

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02 October 2020

Banned in South Africa: Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances in which the possession of a vinyl record of a Christian minister would be illegal.

But this did happen, and not so long ago. The year was 1966; the country was South Africa; and the speaker was Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

King disc label

In July 1966, the disc pictured above was distributed to 1200 church and community leaders throughout South Africa. The South African Publications Control Board banned the record on 19 August that same year, with no reason given. A police spokesperson reportedly said that mere possession of the disc would be grounds for prosecution.

This was at a time when the minority white population dominated the majority black population through the system of ‘apartheid’. Apartheid was a policy of legalized racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa for most of the second half of the twentieth century.

Two years before this incident, future president Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned: a 'life sentence' that was to last 27 years.

The disc features a speech by Dr King given in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in October, 1964, at a meeting of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. It included a call for US society and its churches to cleanse themselves of racism. It seems this was not a message the South African authorities wanted people to hear.

The records were pressed and distributed by the Rev. Dale White (an Anglican priest, and director of the Wilgespruit Christian Fellowship Center near Johannesburg) and Bode Wegerif (an executive in a Johannesburg publishing company).

The British Library only acquired a copy of this rare record in 2019, when it was kindly donated to the collection by Jannie Oosthuizen.

Jannie wrote at the time:

The LP record was in the record collection of my father, D.C.S. Oosthuizen. He died in 1969, but we remember the record as children, and played it from time to time.

We never noticed that it didn’t have Martin Luther King’s name on the label, and I had assumed incorrectly that it had been bought on sabbatical in the states in 1968.

But in finding it again recently and looking up the history, I realise that it must have been sent to him (as a South African church leader) when the record was first distributed in 1966.

A contemporary press release about the banning, with quotes from Dr King, is available to view on the web site of the African Activist Archive.

22 July 2020

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage preserves 200,000 endangered sounds

Article written by: Nina Webb-Bourne

Thanks to the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) team's dedication to sound conservation, 200,000 of the nation’s most endangered recordings are now preserved for generations to come.

This major milestone has arrived at a significant moment. Along with our ten hub partners, we are now over half-way through a National Lottery Heritage Funded five-year project to restore and catalogue half a million rare and at-risk sounds. However, the vital work of curators, cataloguers and audio engineers around the nation was recently impeded by the challenges of lockdown life.

Despite these obstacles, or perhaps in spite of them, the UOSH team was spurred on to find that extra momentum and make this impressive breakthrough. Each and every hub across the nation played a part and contributed a substantial 20,000 recordings to the total. The audio heritage safeguarded and digitised by the project now includes recordings as varied as a survey of traditional Irish dialects by the National Museums Northern Ireland, and the British Library’s Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection.

To celebrate this achievement, we are sharing with you the striking sound of the Ecuadorian Yellow-billed Jacamar, the 200,000th recording to be catalogued and preserved in our archive. This recording was originally archived on audio CD and is one of over 5000 Ecuadorian bird sounds recorded by Niels Krabbe.

Listen to the Yellow-billed Jacamar

Yellow-billed Jacamar, Ecuador, 1994. Held in the Ecuador birds WA 2003/003 collection.

Illustration-of-Yellow-bill

 [Image: The Biodiversity Heritage Library]

Niels Krabbe is an ornithologist, bird conservationist, and skilled recordist. He has worked extensively in the Andes and has a developed a keen interest in the biodiversity of Ecuador, where he became the first person in 80 years to scientifically record an observation of endangered Yellow-eared Parrots. The collection held by the British Library also includes the calls of endangered and endemic species, such as the El Oro and White-necked Parakeets.

As a result of Niels Krabbe’s prolific and sustained work in the region, we have obtained a valuable treasure trove of recorded history, rich in breadth and depth, and one that showcases much of Ecuador’s bird life and natural environment. These sounds are also an authentic representation of that habitat. Krabbe prides himself on ‘preferring to get a good tape recording of a bird rather than a good look at it’.

A similar dedication to conservation has ensured the UOSH team's recent success in cataloguing its 200,000th sound. As we emerge from lockdown, there is a renewed focused on the task ahead as there are many more recordings at risk, and thousands more to digitise before the project is complete.

Follow project updates at @BLSoundHeritage on Twitter and Instagram.

20 January 2020

Recording of the week: Night in a várzea forest by boat

This week’s selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Rainforests are noisy places, even after dark. This recording was made in one of the Amazon’s many várzea or floodplain forests, in the dead of night, by wildlife sound recordist Ian Christopher Todd. Based in a boat in the middle of the Amazon River, our recordist found himself surrounded by a cacophony of sound.

Night in a várzea forest recorded by Ian Christopher Todd (BL shelfmark 201326)

Giant Marine Toad

The rattling calls of Giant Marine Toads (Bufo marinus) can be heard alongside the calls of other amphibians. In the distance, unknown sounds emerge from the darkness beyond, creating a multi-layered soundscape. And, as with many recordings of this type, the more you listen the more you’ll hear.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

20 November 2019

Hollywood Fights Back

Written by Delaina Sepko, Sound Collections Researcher.

Hollywood Fights Back is a two part radio programme made and financed by the Committee for the First Amendment and broadcast on the American network ABC.

The episodes aired on 26 October 1947 and 2 November 1947 respectively.

The programme's content is spread across 6 shellac discs - also called 78s - which are automatically coupled for seamless broadcast playback.

This programme was made in reaction to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings led by Representative J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey into so-called subversive, Communist activities of private citizens, government officials and businesses.

In November 1946 Thomas took over HUAC, which had been running in various forms since the early 1930s, and he immediately took aim at Hollywood and what he considered a Communist influenced motion picture industry. He targeted actors, producers, screenwriters and directors for their suspected Communist beliefs and for supposedly spreading propaganda in their films.

In September 1947 Thomas summoned dozens of Hollywood actors and screenwriters before HUAC but only ten appeared for questioning. This group would become known as the Hollywood Ten. Thomas opened the hearings with an imposing line up of ‘friendly’ witnesses ready to name names and publicly out colleagues they thought might be guilty. In this case, guilty could simply mean suspected. For example, Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan - then President of the Screen Actors Guild - were both willing and generous when offering up names of suspected Communists and their sympathisers. Disney and Reagan merely mentioning colleagues or employee names during the hearings was enough to incriminate them. Despite these accusations and in the face of great pressure, the Hollywood Ten refused to answer any of the Committee's questions and citing the 5th Amendment to support their silence. Making an example of their insubordination, Thomas fined and sentenced the Hollywood Ten to jail for up to a year for their contempt of Congress.

Reacting to such a devastating blow dealt so close to home, Phillip Dune, Myrna Loy, John Huston and William Wyler formed the Committee for the First Amendment (CFA) in September 1947 and met for the first time in Ira Gershwin's living room. They were sympathetic to the Hollywood Ten's plight but they were also worried for their own careers. If the Hollywood Ten could be summoned before the HUAC and have their reputations and personal beliefs laid bare and publicly scrutinised, then so could Dune, Loy, Wyler or anyone else from the film industry. They described the CFA as a non-political group of stars, writers, producers, scientists, senators and men of letters.

Timed to coincide with the first episode’s broadcast, the CFA flew in two groups to Washington D.C. – one departing from Hollywood and the other from New York - to observe the hearings and to deliver a petition for redress of grievances to the US government, which is part of the First Amendment and a basic tenant of American democracy. In this case, the petition was a formal complaint made against the US government and under the Bill of Rights, any American citizen can lodge one. 

Marsha Hunt reads the CFA petition:

 Marsha Hunt (9CL0041856)

Redress petition coverRedress petition cover (Item 25466014, the National Archives, Washington, D.C.)

Accompanied by a PR campaign filled with photo shoots and interviews, this trip to Washington, D.C. was choreographed to make the most of the stars' high profile status, popularity and beloved public opinion and do so using as many mass media outlets as possible. This method ensured the CFA shared their message with as many Americans as possible, as many ways as possible. Hollywood Fights Back was one part of that campaign.

Hollywood Fights Back episode 1 disc labelHollywood Fights Back episode 1 disc label

The first episode served as an introduction to the HUAC, its hearings as well as the CFA and its objections to both. It was opened by Judy Garland and followed by Gene Kelly, who suggested that if Americans liked films made by those subpoenaed by HUAC, then they could be called subversive too. Kelly suggested the HUAC objected to and dismissed average Americans’ sensibilities and points of view.

Gene Kelly (9CL0041852)

The episode's contributors are quick to ask who is behind HUAC and what is its purpose? 

William Holden explained who spearheaded HUAC and should be held responsible for its members' actions.

William Holden (9CL0041854)

Its purpose, John Huston continues, was to propose legislation that counters subversive activities. By the time Hollywood Fights Back was broadcast, the HUAC had been in existence for nine years and in that time, it proposed only one piece of legislation that was eventually rejected by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

Hollywood Fights Back made a clear distinction between what it found unsavoury about HUAC investigations and what it considered unlawful. The CFA did not approve of the topics addressed at the hearings but their real objections were directed at the way the hearing were conducted. 

Myrna Loy (9CL0041854)

Lucille Ball, famous for her comedy routines and ability to make people laugh, was profoundly serious when she explained how she and her fellow CFA members thought HUAC was tarnishing the Bill of Rights. This document, fundamental to American democracy, and the civil liberties it granted to American citizens, she explained, was only one pillar of their democratic society and if that pillar were knocked over, then the rest could fall too. Ball was keen to make listeners understand that HUAC and the hearings threatened much more than the careers of Hollywood film stars.

Lucille Ball (9CL0041854)

And if Ball's comments fell on deaf ears, the CFA enlisted WW2 veteran Audie Murphy to help listeners appreciate the CFA's concerns. Murphy was the most decorated WW2 American veteran and was well known and well respected across America. Murphy explained how the HUAC was undoing all the hard work he and his fellow veterans did to win the war and protect democratic values and rights not just in the United States but across the globe.

Audie Murphy (9CL0041854)

Once so-called Communist propaganda was removed from Hollywood, who would the HUAC’s target next? How long would their hunt for allegedly subversive thoughts and activities continue? CFA members feared that other creative industries such as theatre and literature would come under the same devastating scrutiny. John Garfield explained some of the investigations already taking place into people working in these other fields.

John Garfield (9CL0041853)

As the episode concludes, Judy Garland makes another appearance and her pleas were aimed straight at the heart. She issued a call to arms inspired by duty and driven by fear of complacency.

Judy Garland (9CL0041852)

Hollywood Fights Back episode 2 disc labelHollywood Fights Back episode 2 disc label

The second episode focused on what the CFA considered HUAC civil liberty violations, a claim as dangerous for them to make as it was for those accused. If CFA members were not already under HUAC scrutiny, then they were aware they probably would be after their campaign. Simply mentioning sympathy for HUAC targets was enough to raise suspicion and potentially damage careers.

Danny Kaye voiced these concerns:

Danny Kaye (9CL0041856)

Nonetheless, the second episode addressed what CFA members believed was the heart of the matter: a committee acting with the government's blessing and devoted to rooting out un-American activities was conducting its affairs in an un-American way. Of course, the measure of 'American' was different for both sides and each would have argued their perspective was the true democratic one. CFA members were dedicated to the First Amendment, freedom of speech and the right to defend oneself against accusations; the HUAC was committed to identifying and stopping real or perceived ideas and individuals who they felt challenged and threatened democratic values and the historical status quo. Contributors to Hollywood Fights Back lambasted the HUAC again and again for treating witnesses as 'friendly' or 'unfriendly,' a practice they feared prejudiced public perception of the hearings and the people they targeted. HUAC did not, in the contributors' opinions, give the accused a fair chance to defend and protect themselves.

Using transcripts from their 27 October hearing visit, June Havoc, Groucho Marx and Keenan Wynn demonstrate the different approaches the HUAC took when questioning the two types of witnesses:

Havoc, Marx and Wynn (9CL0041856)

The HUAC offered one perspective - subversion and guilt - and in an attempt to balance the debate, Hollywood Fights Back offered alternative opinions. To accomplish that, the contributors read newspaper articles, editorials and public statements published around the country in which the authors questioned HUAC’s ethics or disagreed with its methods. These other voices in Hollywood Fights Back belong not just to film stars and other celebrities, although these high-profile figures were the ones that helped get peoples' attention, but also to average American citizens expressing their concern: if the HUAC’s reach extended to Hollywood, then it could certainly reach their home towns. How far would HUAC go, they asked?

Hollywood Fights Back set out to counter the HUAC and its sympathetic media presence and balance opinions about the ethical and legal nature of HUAC hearings. Yet its ultimate aim was higher. Contributors wanted the hearings abolished and buried so that they could never happen again. The episode concluded with another rally cry and encouraged listeners to consider what the HUAC was doing and to write and condemn its investigation.

Episode 1 contributors: Charles Boyer, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Peter Lorre, John Huston, Danny Kaye, Marsha Hunt, Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Evelyn Keyes, Burt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, William Holden, Robert Ryan, Florence Eldridge, Myrna Loy, Robert Young, Lucille Ball, William Wyler, Fredric March, John Garfield, Deems Taylor, Artie Shaw, Elbert Thomas, Harley Kilgore, Archibald MacLeish, Claude Pepper, Glen Taylor, Vincent Price, Edward Robinson, Paulette Goddard, Audie Murphy, Humphrey Bogart, Van Heflin.

Episode 2 contributors: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Douglas Fairbanks, Rita Hayworth, Florence Eldridge, Lauren Bacall, Burt Lancaster, Danny Kaye, Evelyn Keyes, Paul Henreid, June Havoc, Groucho Marx, Keenan Wynn, Humphrey Bogart, John Huston, Marsha Hunt, Hurd Hatfield, Peter Lorre, Burt Ives, Geraldine Brooks, Jane Wyatt, Vanessa Brown, Arthur Webb, Gene Kelly, George Kaufman, Moss Hart, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Thomas Mann, Dana Andrews, Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, Richard Conte.

N.B. Most contemporary references to Episode 1’s broadcast date list it as 27 October 1947. The disc label for that episode and several newspaper articles from that time show that it was, in fact, 26 October.

Hollywood Fights Back episode announcement in The Evening Star, 25 Oct 1947Hollywood Fights Back episode announcement in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 25 Oct. 1947 (taken from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress)

The British Library Sound Archive has physical copies of both episodes:

Episode 1 - 9CL0041852, 9CL0041853, 9CL0041854

Episode 2 - 9CL0041855, 9CL0041856, 9CL0041857

They are also digitally available for on-site listening.

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