DCS: korla pandit

black history month 2020

Korla Pandit was a pioneer in the musical genre known as “exotica.” He played the Hammond organ and grand piano, giving a new, otherworldly life to standard tunes like “Over the Rainbow,” adding rapid runs, unusual breaks, and piano intermezzo. Beginning in 1949, Korla Pandit’s Adventures In Music was featured on Los Angeles’ KTLA. Korla would sit silently at his keys and, for the duration of the fifteen-minute program, play a variety of musical numbers while staring intently at the camera. An off-screen narrator would introduce the maestro as hailing from New Delhi, India, the son of a French opera singer and an Indian Brahmin government official. As his popularity grew, Koral was befriended by Hollywood stars like Errol Fynn and Bob Hope and he appeared in several films including The Thief of Bagdad.

Except Korla Pandit was living a lie.

In reality, Korla Pandit was, in fact, John Roland Redd, an African-American born in St. Louis, the son of a Baptist preacher. He adopted the Indian persona at the suggestion of his wife, Disney animator Beryl DeBeeson. The couple married in Tijuana , Mexico, as interracial marriages were prohibited in the United States. Exploiting his light complexion, first John used the name “Juan Rolando” before changing to the more exotic “Korla Pandit” and passing himself as Indian. He and his wife concocted a backstory and they fashioned a flashy wardrobe to complete the illusion. Korla kept up his appearance at all times — both on camera and off. His family would come to see his perform, but never speak to him. He would visit them, in full “costume,” but did so covertly and never with his wife or children.

In 1967, Korla and his family moved to British Columbia to avoid his sons being drafted into service in the Vietnam War. He performed in clubs in the late 70s in San Francisco, where he began to speak, delivering mystic messages of a somewhat spiritual nature. With his television popularity on the decline, he performed anywhere that would hire him — including pizza shops, department stores, supermarkets and car dealerships. He did experience a slight resurgence in popularity during the “Tiki music” revival of the 1990s. Korla even had a brief cameo in the Tim Burton biopic Ed Wood in 1994 and recorded with the Southern California punk band The Muffs.

Korla succumbed to a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 77. His children were unaware of their father’s true identity and heritage until after his death. His son, John, actually debated the truth.



DCS: abbey lincoln

black history month 2020 week 1

With Billie Holiday as an influence, Abbey Lincoln made a career performing standards, as well as her deeply personal original songs in jazz clubs through the country. She sang on her husband Max Roach‘s civil rights-themed album We Insist! in 1960. Her own lyrics were often connected to the civil rights movement.

Abbey was cast in dramatic roles in several films, including Nothing But a Man with Ivan Dixon and For the Love of Ivy with Sidney Poitier. She made guest appearances in episodic television, including All in the Family, The Name of the Game and Mission: Impossible. Her final role was in Spike Lee’s 1990 film Mo’ Better Blues.

Abbey passed away in 2010 just a few days after her 80th birthday.



IF: trial


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Prepare yourself for the witness box.
COURT CLERK: Take off your hat.
JUDGE: Take off your hat.
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
JUDGE: Please take off your hat.
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
COURT CLERK: Now put your left hand here.
JUDGE: Will you please take off your hat!!
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
JUDGE: Take off your hat!!!
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
COURT CLERK: Will you get rid of that hat?
CURLY: Raise your right hand.
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand!!
COURT CLERK: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
COURT CLERK: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
CURLY: Are you trying to give me the double talk?

Classic lowbrow humor from Curly Howard and company in the 1936 short Disorder in the Court.



DCS: kobe bryant

black mamba

I remember when Kobe Bryant was a phenom at Lower Merion High School, just outside of Philadelphia. There was a lot of controversy and second-guessing when he decided to forgo college and make himself available for the NBA Draft upon his graduation from high school.

The rest, as they say, is history. Obviously, he made the right decision.

Kobe died on January 26, 2020 when his private helicopter crashed in the hills above Calabasas, California. He was 41 years old.



DCS: bee palmer

I wish that I could shimmy like my sister Kate

Chicago-born Bee Palmer was a popular dancer in the early part of the 20th century. She toured with some notable jazz musicians, always under the name “Bee Palmer’s New Orleans Rhythm Kings.” The Rhythm Kings, however, were more successful after they parted ways with Bee.

In 1910, Bee introduced a new provocative dance, shaking her shoulders to accentuate her chest. The dance, called “The Shimmy,” caused an uproar, although it did gain her fans and afforded her the nickname “The Shimmy Queen.” The Milwaukee Evening Sentinel was prompted to write “Bee can wiggle and squirm and sway with the best in the business, but she seems a trifle ashamed of herself, as, indeed, she ought to be.”

She joined the famed Ziegfeld Follies in 1918. Later she performed on the stage with W.C. Fields and Will Rogers. Bee also claimed herself as co-writer of the pop standard “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” a song that was cited as using virtually the same chord sequence as the 1925 composition “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?”

In the 20s, Bee had a scandalous affair with boxer Jack Dempsey, which culminated in a lawsuit by her current husband, pianist Al Siegel.

By the early 1930s, Bee’s style of singing and dancing fell out of favor. She was more suited for vaudeville and she just faded from the public eye. She passed away in obscurity in 1967 at the age of 73.



IF: red panda

not a panda

I have been participating — without fail — in the online illustration blog Illustration Friday since 2006. Most weeks, they present a word that is wide open to many interpretations. Except this week….

This week, the word is “red panda.” I didn’t know what a “red panda” was until I Googled it. It turns out — much to my surprise — it is not a subspecies of panda. It is also not related to raccoons, skunks or weasels. It was once believed to be a relative of the bear family, but that has since been discounted. Now, it seems, the red panda is the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. That means they are like nothing else on earth. So, of course, it is on the endangered species list.

So, what exactly is a red panda? I’m still not sure.

I took my first shot a wildlife drawing. There are so many of my contemporaries that are much more accomplished at this, I fear this will also be my last attempt at wildlife drawing.



DCS: neil peart

the professor

Just after the conclusion of the Test for Echo tour, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Rush drummer Neil Peart was killed in a car accident. Ten months later, his common-law wife died of cancer. Distraught, Neil told his band mates to consider him retired, He set out on a long and extensive “trip to nowhere” that took him all over North and Central America on a motorcycle. He covered approximately 55,000 miles. He chronicled the trip in his 2002 memoir Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road,

Neil eventually returned to performing until calling it quits again in 2015, citing non-specific health issues.

On January 10, 2020, it was announced that Neil passed away from an aggressive form of brain cancer three days earlier.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I was never a fan of Rush. Yeah, I liked one or two of their songs, but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan. When I was in high school, I knew several hardcore Rush fans… and they loved Rush. Rush was one of those bands whose fans loved them on an obsessive and all-consuming level. I liked other so-called “progressive rock bands,” but Rush never did it for me. Though, I would never say that to any Rush fan that I knew, fearing it would spawn a vicious argument and possibly jeopardize a friendship.

Jerry Garcia, the late guitarist and front man for the Grateful Dead, once said of his band: “We’re like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice, really like licorice.” This, surprisingly, applies to Rush as well.




IF: technology

on the road again
“Technology presumes there’s just one right way to do things and there never is.”
— Robert M. Pirsig
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

After 126 rejections, Robert M. Pirsig finally got his 1974 fictionalized autobiographical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance published. It went on to sell over five million copies worldwide, despite having very little to do with motorcycle maintenance. Pirsig’s tale had more to do with philosophy and self-reconciliation. His account was partly based on the after-effects of the electroshock therapy he received as a patient in a mental institution to treat his diagnosed schizophrenia.