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I’d heard there was ‘nothing new’ in Ron Howard’s Beatles movie, and in the grand scheme of things this turned out to be true, though there’s new concert footage and excellent bits with the fans. (Among other things, you’ll see a tweenage Sigourney Weaver, up in the nosebleed seats at the Hollywood Bowl.) But forty-five minutes into the film, there’s a striking set piece.

At an American press conference, a journalist asks the Beatles about an upcoming performance at a football stadium in Jacksonville, Florida: ‘What about this comment that I heard concerning racial integration at various performances?’

‘We don’t like it if there’s any segregation or anything, because it just seems mad to me,’ Paul McCartney replies.

‘Well, you’re going to play Jacksonville Friday. Do you anticipate any kind of difference developing?’

‘Well I don’t know, really. That’d be a bit silly, to segregate people. ’Cause, you know, I mean – yeah, I just think it’s stupid! You can’t treat other people like animals!’

‘That’s the way we all feel,’ the other Beatles chip in.

‘That’s the way we all feel, and a lot of people in England feel that way, you know, ’cause there’s never any segregation in concerts in England and, in fact, if there was,’ Paul says, with a sneer, ‘we wouldn’t play them, you know?’

The show’s organisers relented. On 11 September 1964, the Beatles performed for an integrated audience in Jacksonville.

Recalling the incident the other week, while promoting Howard’s film on American television, McCartney said:

Brian Epstein, our manager, would have just said: ‘Oh, you know, and this show is segregated.’ We thought he was joking … We actually put it in the contract. It wasn’t a big political gesture. It’s just instinct that, you know: why shouldn’t black and white people be together? It wasn’t political to us. It was just like, ‘Haha. No. We’re not doing it.’

It was, of course, a political gesture. Howard’s film tells us, matter-of-factly, that as a result, stadiums across the South were integrated. Maybe so. The Civil Rights Act passed earlier that summer would have already mandated it, but as Jacksonville showed, Southern concert promoters were in no rush to comply. The Beatles themselves never made a big deal out of the Jacksonville show. The officially sanctioned Beatles Anthology quotes John Lennon: ‘We had a marvellous time water-skiing in Florida.’ It’s the only time, for all of 1964, that Florida’s mentioned.

Comments

  1. Joe Morison says:

    Let’s hope for something similar in North Carolina.

  2. Stu Bry says:

    Is there any evidence of diversity amongst the audience? Even in 2016 it is simple enough to find concerts or nightclubs which are racially homogeneous both in the USA and UK. It’s difficult to imagine the marketing of The Beatles having much impact with the Black population of the Jim Crow South.

    • Bob Beck says:

      According to this story:

      http://mentalfloss.com/article/30477/all-together-now-civil-rights-and-beatles-first-american-tour

      there were only a “handful” of black fans at the Jacksonville show. But that was probably not because the Beatles held no appeal for black music fans in general:

      ‘“I think The Beatles did a lot in terms of bridging cultures, and that was something very new at that time,” says Oliver, who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, where she’s an oral historian and author. “They came from another country and another culture, so that made them intriguing to many black people. These people were different and they were singing some R & B songs that were familiar to us. It was the cross-cultural aspect that went beyond racial issues that made them so important. They gave us a new way of dialoguing at a time when we were really at odds with each other.”’

      Fear of violence — perfectly rational fear, in the circumstances — likely kept most black fans, however many there were, from attending.

      • Stu Bry says:

        Thank you for the reply and the link.

        Music was one area in life where you could argue Black Americans were able to see their own culture treated respectfully in 1963. Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and The Chiffons are just a few of the acts that had major hits that year.

        I suspect that The Beatles show was mainly White for the same reason Led Zepplin, U2 and Radiohead shows in the USA were attended by majority White audiences. Black America had it’s own culture which couldn’t be penetrated by marketing aimed at Whites.

        • John Lennon in 1970:

          When we got here [America], you were all walking around in fuckin’ bermuda shorts, with Boston crew cuts and stuff on your teeth. Now they’re telling us, they’re all saying, “Beatles are passé and this is like that, man.” The chicks looked like fuckin’ 1940 horses. There was no conception of dress or any of that jazz. We just thought “what an ugly race,” it looked just disgusting. We thought how hip we were, but, of course, we weren’t. It was just the five of us, us and the Stones were really the hip ones; the rest of England were just the same as they ever were.

          You tend to get nationalistic, and we would really laugh at America, except for its music. It was the black music we dug, and over here even the blacks were laughing at people like Chuck Berry and the blues singers; the blacks thought it wasn’t sharp to dig the really funky music, and the whites only listened to Jan and Dean and all that. We felt that we had the message which was “listen to this music.” It was the same in Liverpool, we felt very exclusive and underground in Liverpool, listening to Richie Barret and Barrett Strong, and all those old-time records. Nobody was listening to any of them except Eric Burdon in Newcastle and Mick Jagger in London. It was that lonely, it was fantastic. When we came over here and it was the same –nobody was listening to rock and roll or to black music in America–we felt as though we were coming to the land of its origin but nobody wanted to know about it.

  3. Timothy Rogers says:

    There’s a general cluelessness exhibited by the above chain of comments. As to how American black teenagers and older pop music fans felt about white rock-n-rollers and the English wave of bands that followed on the Beatles’ heels, you’d have to interview them 50 years after the fact, and that doesn’t sound like it will ever happen.

    Lennon’s comments, as bright as he (sometimes) was, illustrate the point. The Beatles’ exposure to America at the time was limited to major (white) performance venues and radio and TV studios. They didn’t play on (or, as far as I know, visit) the East Coast’s then-thriving “chitlin circuit”, where souls-singers (crooners, balladeers), rockers, R&B guys, funky jazz-rockers and four-part harmony groups (male, female, mixed) were popular (while being screwed by their agents and record companies when it came to pay). This was all over Lennon’s head or beneath his notice, so his comments about black music in the US seem pretty meaningless. Maybe he wised up as he got older, though he did seem prone to faddishness. As an instance of the latter I’ll mention how taken by Indian sitar music (which I personally like, thinking of it as comparable to late Baroque solo harpsichord music) the Beatles (or at least Lennon) were. But, right there in the US for their ears to hear were all kinds of black instrumental styles that were very funky and not just “standard pop” accompaniment. The Beatles never went in that direction.

    I was young, listened to rock, went to a few shows (including those at the basically all-black venues on the circuit in Baltimore and Washington DC), and bought records at the time (starting with 45s in the mid-fifties and moving up to 33 albums in the sixties. When the Beatles had their first big hits here my own reaction was that they were a little too “cute” and the uncritical beneficiaries of the commercial side of the music business that’s always hoping to make a ton of money on “the next big thing”. However, they did keep changing their style over the years, but I don’t think the end result had a great deal of appeal to black American pop music fans (let’s face it rock has been pop since day one, whatever its purveyors’ intentions or declarations). My listening habits didn’t change much with the arrival of the English wave (I liked the Kinks for a while), and, to me, a nice white suburban college boy, none of these groups could hold a candle to the likes of Ray Charles, James Brown or Little Stevie Wonder (among others). Although perhaps an “ethnic oddball” in some sense, I think that black listeners would have agreed with me.

    By 1966 I was at the bottom of the food chain in the US army, and I remember a funny incident during basic training. My training group consisted of half black city kids and half hill-country boys from western North Carolina, a potentially explosive mixture. A white guy I knew from Baltimore was shuffling around the barracks playing his music through a little tape-cassette speaker – it was the Rolling Stones’ latest album. My bunkmate (top bunk, with me down below), a tough black kind from DC looked at me and said, “Man, you white boys really like some stupid shit.” I don’t think his opinion was unique.

    Exceptions came along and eventually proved to be the new trend with “ethnic crossover” groups and hits making the big time. I remember from around 1970 how the black radio DJs in Baltimore liked to play The Righteous Brothers, usually tossing out the phrase “blue-eyed soul”. The merging of strains from black and white pop was certainly a good thing socially, and, I suppose, musically as well. But it took a long time, and there remained many listeners on each side of the divide who didn’t wish their taste to be “tainted” by such attempts at “musical integration”.

    • Thanks for this, and the other comments, Timothy et. al. This is thorny, problematic stuff—well worth going into at length (I’ve spent sixteen years trying to write a book about it, often failing, but I’m trying to this day). But off the top of my head: One thing to say is that the Beatles did make a concerted, if doomed, effort to record at Stax Studios in Memphis. Towards the end of their run, they effectively invited Billy Preston to join their band. There are any number of spectacular covers of Beatles songs by African-American artists. (There’s also a spectacular Bobby Womack cover, out there, of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”) Another thing to say is that the music always *was* integrated – the basic building blocks of American music (blue notes, syncopated rhythms, etc.) are born of the blending of African and European musical tendencies. (Gunther Schuller’s book on early jazz is dense, but fascinating, on the specifics, as is Robert Cantwell’s ‘Bluegrass Breakdown.’) Moreover, all of that said, the hoary old notion that rock and roll was a blend of country music and rhythm and blues is bullshit, if only (thought not only) because country music was already a deeply integrated music (just anecdotally: Hank Williams sang the blues, which he’d learned in part from a black musician named Rufus Payne; Jimmie Rodgers was a blues singer who’d been a blackface minstrel; the Carter Family employed a black song scout; Bill Monroe worked bluegrass out with a black fiddler guitarist named Arnold Schultz; and so forth), along with various instances of the reverse (Howlin’ Wolf’s howl was his best attempt to imitate Rodger’s yodel; the house band at Stax was totally integrated, though located in the middle of the segregated South; and, by the way, have you heard Al Green’s covers of Willie Nelson and Hank Williams?). The distinctions tend to come from above; seen from below, and before the industry gets its hands on it, it’s just American vernacular music, and a music more true, in some ways, to the idea of America, at its best, than America itself has ever quite managed to be.

      • (Although, of course, the other thing to say about Lennon’s comment, is that black America didn’t need to Beatles to tell black America about black American music. It wasn’t new information, per se. But for white musicians in America, the Beatles/Stones/Animals/etc. may well have represented a distancing mechanism that allowed for a certain relaxation of understandable inhibitions vis-a-vis the appreciation/playing/ presentation and profiting off of various African-American idioms.)

        • Timothy Rogers says:

          The above-two comments are on the money. I would add that a grouping of older white rock-n-roll singers who peaked in their popularity in the late 1950s had obviously listened to a lot of black Gospel and R&B music: Jerry Lee Lewis and Eddie Cochran (spelling?) come to mind immediately, and, in his off-beat way so does Gene Vincent. Carl Perkins and E. Presley were also familiar with these sounds.

          Some of the early conspicuous “cross-over” hits even took in some influences from a surprising source, the “light classical” string ensemble (the first instance of this I can remember came in a succession of hits by the Drifters). Sometime in the mid- or late 1960s, my cousin, a musician, took me to a show at the Howard Theater (one of the big venues on the aforementiioned chitlin circuit) in Washington. It was “the Saturday midnight show” and it drew a full house, including our two shining white faces. The first half of the bill featured an “Afro-pop” group, Olatunji and his Drums of Passion, all suitably attired in dashikis and little cylindrical caps. The reception by the black audience was lukewarm – they all came for the second half of the show, James Brown and his Famous Flames, which had its own intermission. When the curtain rose on the second half of his act, the black kids gasped and giggled, for there on stage, arranged in two rows of chairs behind Brown were a cohort of middle-aged white men, string players attired in tuxedos. They supplied the lush string introduction and background music for a song titled Prisoner of Love, which Brown sang in true crooner style (very different from his later screaming-shouting-growling approach). After they got over their surprise the local kids loved it. The show’s final number was Brown’s big instrumental hit, “Night Train”, with him leading a conga-line of all the other performers as the “train” chugged across the stage under blue and silver strobe lights as he called out the “stops” (East Coast cities with large black populations, staring with Miami and ending in New York). Spectacular! (And a very funky instrumental piece.)

          This kind of thing was also incorporated into Spector’s “wall of sound” background music of many of his big hits. Ray Charles did a few of these string-accompanied songs too in the middle of his musically polyglot career (and they were good).

          • Bob Beck says:

            I’ll freely admit to some cluelessness on this. (My first exposure to the Beatles — not that their name was mentioned in the context — was likely the Sesame Street version of “Octopus’s Garden”. I was five). I shouldn’t have suggested that the major factor deterring black pop fans from the Florida show was a fear of violence, when lack of interest was in all likelihood a bigger factor.

            On the other hand, to posit some hypothetical pristine “Black” culture, impervious to “White” influence, strikes me as even more ahistorical.

            An example, which seems absurd after this lapse of time: in 1961, Lawrence Welk and his orchestra had a top 10 hit on the R&B charts, “Calcutta”. And I think it was Duke Ellington who said at one point that his favourite band was Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians — not long ago dismissed on this site as “the epitome of cheesy white pop”.

            In the words of the musicologist Elijah Wald, from whose book “Leaving the Delta” I gleaned these tidbits: “The world is not a simple place.”

              • Timothy Rogers says:

                I can’t disagree. Nobody probably knows the “sound” of or instruments used by the earliest black music-makers in the Americas, including the islands (amateurs, all, like their Scotch-Irish counterparts and others who arrived on these balmy shores). However, it should be obvious that by the 1800s black performers had heard plenty of white music and were using the instruments of their white counterparts. (On that point it would be wise to note the existence of black composers-performers who got caught up (and were successful)in the very competitive European classical music scene – the Chevalier de St. George and Breckenridge, for whom Beethoven wrote a violin piece, come to mind).

    • Bob Beck says:

      Starting again at the left-hand margin, if only to reduce crowding…

      I’m intrigued by (haven’t yet listened to) this “Academy” podcast on Slate.com:

      http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/pop_race_and_the_60s/2016/09/jack_hamilton_presents_pop_race_and_the_60s_a_slate_academy.html

      ‘When Jimi Hendrix died in September of 1970, one of his obituarists pointedly described him as “a black man in the alien world of rock.” To most readers this would have been an uncontroversial assessment: Throughout his brief and dazzling career, Hendrix’s race was a subject of curiosity and controversy, as though the sheer idea of a black man playing rock and roll lead guitar presented some sort of fundamental disjuncture to listeners. And yet few observers noted the curious fact that just 10 years earlier, no one had thought it “alien” when another black man, Chuck Berry, had been doing the exact same thing. How did rock and roll music “become white”? Did it? And what does the question even mean?….’

      ‘What does it mean for sound to have a color? On the surface, referring to music or a musician as “sounding white” or “sounding black” is fundamentally nonsensical—and yet most of us effortlessly understand what these descriptions mean, even as most of us would fail if pressed to explain them. The ’60s were a decade when many of these understandings were summarily disrupted, then rebuilt in newly powerful ways.’

  4. Thanks for this, Bob. I was immediately reminded of Robert Christgau’s review of the Monterey music festival (which you’ll find here: http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/music/monterey-69.php):

    ‘Hendrix is a psychedelic Uncle Tom. Don’t believe me, believe Sam Silver of The East Village Other: “Jimi did a beautiful Spade routine.” Hendrix earned that capital S. Dressed in English fop mod, with a ruffled orange shirt and red pants that outlined his crotch to the thirtieth row, Jimi really, as Silver phrased it, “socked it to them.” Grunting and groaning on the brink of sham orgasm, he made his way through five or six almost indistinguishable songs, occasionally flicking an anteater tongue at that great crotch in the sky. He also played what everybody seems to call “heavy” guitar; in this case, that means he was loud. He was loud with his teeth and behind his back and between his legs, and in case anyone still remembered The Who, Hendrix had a capper. With his back to the audience, Hendrix humped the amplifier and jacked the guitar around his midsection, then turned and sat astride his instrument so that its neck extended like a third leg. For a few tender moments he caressed the strings. Then, in a sacrifice that couldn’t have satisfied him more than it did me, he squirted it with lighter fluid from a can held near his crotch and set the cursed thing afire. The audience scrambled for the chunks he tossed into the front rows. He had tailored a caricature to their mythic standards and apparently didn’t even overdo it a shade. The destructiveness of The Who is consistent theater, deriving directly from the group’s defiant, lower-class stance. I suppose Hendrix’s act can be seen as a consistently vulgar parody of rock theatrics, but I don’t feel I have to like it. Anyhow, he can’t sing.’

    In case you’re not inspired to follow the link, here’s Christgau’s note from 2002:

    ‘This is the full-length version of the Esquire article published in somewhat condensed form in my first collection, Any Old Way You Choose It. It was completed in late July of 1967 but not on the stands until the January 1968 issue. It appears as originally published, with one exception: the phrase “psychedelic Uncle Tom” had to be changed, at the Esquire lawyers’ insistence, to “just another Uncle Tom.” Here it is restored to what I actually wrote, for better or worse–and I certainly think “psychedelic Uncle Tom” is more accurate than “just another Uncle Tom.”‘

    • Bob Beck says:

      I’m sure I speak for more than a few music fans — not to mention fans of, I don’t know, good or anyway not atrociously bad taste, basic respect etc. — when I say: yeesh.

      I often like what Christgau has to say, and if Hendrix’s stage theatrics weren’t to his taste, fair enough. But why he chose to retail that “Uncle Tom” stuff — why he felt he could lay down the law on which black people, in his eyes, did and didn’t live up to some standard of dignity — I have no idea. That he claimed to be paraphrasing someone else is no excuse.

      Many claim that structural racism is still much as it was in the 60s, and I’m hardly in a position to deny it. But at least there are no longer any white writers of any seriousness who attempt to be cool by throwing around words like “spade”. Even Michael Herr of “Dispatches” fame did that as late as 1978 — in a comparison of Hendrix with some of his Airborne Regiment successors, oddly enough.

      In 1976, as you likely know, the unreconstructed Lester Bangs — not yet the author of “The White Noise Supremacists,” which I take to have been partly an attempt to atone for earlier boorishness — published an “interview” with Hendrix, “recorded in his plush and exceedingly far-out lair.” I haven’t read it in a while, and will re-read it, but glancing through it, I see “nigger” makes a few appearances.

      • Timothy Rogers says:

        There is no reason to believe that a popular music business that integrated itself in the interest of developing a broader market would obviate racism – certainly many producers, agents, and performers had the racist attitudes that were a pervasive feature of the overall society in which they lived. As to the “hip” self-dispensations of white writers to use “the N word” and other popular derogatory nicknames for black Americans, one thought occurs to me. As a young man who had spent a year as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam (1968-69), I was an avid reader of Herr’s work when it first appeared. I don’t remember his particular use of the N word, but, if he was either quoting or using indirect discourse to represent the language of white soldiers, then it was simply honest reporting. Although the army, even in its higher-command reaches, was one of the most integrated of all American institutions at the time, many (most?) white soldiers still had their old racist attitudes that they couldn’t shake off so easily. And, to top it off, most black and white soldiers had a wide array of derogatory nicknames for the Vietnamese (allies, foes, and civilians alike). I think that due to the combination of endless stresses and fear of death or serious injury the mental world of the private soldier in Vietnam would appear to an outsider to be just one more nasty ingredient in a real Hobbesian stew of the war of each against all, with shifting temporary alliances takung place in the interest of self-preservation. Defamatory ethnic slurs certainly were part of the bigger problem of race relations, but in that environment they were minor sins.

        • Bob Beck says:

          This thread seems ancient now — just about literally antediluvian — but it’s been on my mind anyway.

          I can’t locate my copy of *Dispatches*, but having read and re-read it almost obsessively when I did have it around, I can’t recall Herr either using or quoting anyone using the word “nigger”. The “spade” passage I mentioned occurs when he’s talking about the importance of Jimi Hendrix to black US troops, and goes something like “Hendrix had once been in the 101st Airborne, and that regiment was full of wiggy-brilliant spades like him, really tough and really good, guys who wouldn’t let you down when the going was rough.”

          So — if I’m remembering accurately — it doesn’t exactly have to do with representing the (doubtless tormented and fraught) mental state(s) of the private trooper. To me, it reads more like just a casual example of some of the hip slang of the day: the pairing with “wiggy” strengthening that impression. It’s not really for me to be outraged or censorious on someone else’s behalf about such stuff: certainly not after this lapse of time. And the book gives the overall impression of considerable enlightenment on race, though Herr never sermonizes.

  5. I honestly don’t know what to say about the Christgau; the latter-day pronouncement’s worse, in a way, than the original, shockingly racist, vulgar, tone-deaf, and stupid review. Except to say that Christgau’s one of the good ones (as was Michael Herr), and cue up ‘corruption of the best is the worst.’ There are other offenders. He doesn’t get trotted out as much as he used to, but Marshall Chess, the son of one of the Chess (Records) brothers, seemed to esp. relish saying to n-word, when interviewed. As if his father’s work—problematic in its own right—had given him the right.

    And yes, re. Bangs, who was not at his best when tackling, or trying to tackle, race. (Even ‘The White Noise Supremacists’ is boorish.)

    On a related note, Jim Dickinson used to say that racism was integral to rockabilly music; that the music was inherently racist. That’s a sweeping statement. But I asked him once if he still believed that and he said, basically, ‘yes.’

    And, to switch categories a bit, there’s also the incredible tone-deafness of a Lionel Shriver, and whatever was happening in Daniel Handler’s brain when he tried to introduce Jacqueline Woodson at the NBA’s.

    The point is not that we can’t talk about this stuff; it’s important stuff, which must be talked about, despite the fact that American history is, in part, a history of our inability to talk about it. (Abraham Lincoln: ‘There is no place where you will allow it [slavery] to be even called wrong! We must not call it wrong in the Free States, because it is not there, and we must not call it wrong in the Slave States because it is there; we must not call it wrong in politics because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because that is bringing politics into religion; we must not bring it into the Tract Society or the other societies, because those are such unsuitable places, and there is no single place, according to you, where this wrong thing can properly be called wrong!’) It’s that what we’re talking about is genocide, and genocide’s continued aftershocks, and it’s probably best to keep that in mind.

    • Bob Beck says:

      Yes, of course. And the racism that enabled genocide persists, in various forms. But does that mean we have to connect — for example — rockabilly back to genocide, in some direct way? Would that exaggerate the usefulness, or explanatory power, of an analysis based primarily in anti-racism? (“Analysis”, at least, was a magic word among the [other] campus radicals [sic] back in my day).

      Though I guess what I’d rather ask — what may be a better question — is: can a style of music, like rockabilly, be “inherently racist,” and if so, how, exactly? Or: what does it mean — or what could it mean — to describe this or that style of music as inherently racist?

      One approach to that is to think about “cultural appropriation,” or what used to be called simply “the rip-off.” Chuck Berry was well within his rights to be bitter about Elvis Presley getting rich and famous with a version of the music Berry had been playing (leaving aside for the moment any consideration of how “good,” let alone how “authentic”, that version was), while he, Berry, had to keep on struggling. But does it complicate the story at all that Presley was very popular among black audiences in small clubs in Memphis well before, probably, he’d sold a single record?

      In other words, was it inherently wrong or “inappropriate” (adj.) for white artists to adapt | rip off | “appropriate” (vt.) styles of music supposedly pioneered by black artists? Or did it become so when, or because, they were able to make a much better living at it than the “original” artists?

      Obviously, I’m suggesting that the idea of cultural appropriation depends, to a degree that’s not always examined, on the workings of the cultural marketetplace, i.e. on the facts and underlying assumptions of capitalism. Because race and racism are so important and (literally) visible, people tend, I think, to overlook the importance of capital and capitalism.

      However powerful racism is, capitalism may have more power, nowadays, to shape people’s thinking. It certainly depends on/makes use of racism, as it can make use of anything. (Though of course it works the other way too; not to mention the strong argument that capitalism wouldn’t or couldn’t have arisen as it did without slavery). And cultural appropriation, as an idea, also depends on other ideas that really came into their own in the 18th and 19th centuries, including ethnic identity, or ethnic nationalism; private property; intellectual property (or copyright) as a form or extension of private property; and indeed “authenticity” itself. All these ideas, too, are “problematic” (as I’m pretty sure the latter-day campus radicals [sic] still say).

      All of which, of course, could just be a pompous and wordy rationalization for my not wanting to give up — or anyway, not wanting to think too deeply about (sorry) the roots of — rockabilly. It’s just so much fun to play.


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