Listicle 2 : Racism in Popular Music

In today’s world we have become conscious of the extent to which racism is prevalent at all levels of society, and that racism motivates political agendas, and that institutions including major corporations and even the police routinely practice racially discriminatory policies. This is, of course, despite many laws being passed to try to curb racist activity.

What can often be overlooked, however, is that racism is not an exclusively modern problem, and that it exists to a large extent even in the so-called liberal arts. What follows below is a listing of alarmingly racist activities in the sphere of popular music since the year 1900. It’s only a small selection of many such actions recorded in my website and any student or academic or author or journalist interested in learning more about this topic, perhaps for the purpose of writing a thesis, or preparing a magazine or online article or feature on this subject, might do worse than to visit and select the Racism tag on the Topic page ( where many more such incidents can be found.


How Concerts Promoted Racism In 1900

1900 Jan 02 : The Union Club Annual Concert is held in the Town Hall, Alston, Cumberland, UK. Entertainment includes violin solos, recitations, and the following songs :
The Dandy Coloured Coon, Down By The Sea and In The Pale Moonlight by Mr. D.R. Denard; Little Cotton Dolly and Ambolena Snow [an Afro-American military ballad] by Miss Dora Whaley; Tomorrow Will Be Friday and Father O’Flynn by Mr. Gibbs; All Souls’ Day and Curly Headed Baby by Miss Logan; Bonnets Of Blue by Miss James. A report in the local newspaper, The Northern News, notes that, ‘A new feature was the gramophone, which was manipulated by Mr. Cyril Millican of Newcastle.’

Songs Helped Establish Racist Language

1920, Aug 13 : The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League creates The Red, Black And Green flag as a response to the song Every Race Has A Flag But The Coon by Heelan and Helf. That song, along with Coon Coon Coon and All Coons Look Alike To Me were later identified by H.L. Mencken as being the songs which firmly established the derogatory term “coon” in the American vocabulary.

Black Jazzers Deported From Australia

1928, march 25 : Police raid a city flat in Melbourne, Australia, and find six black American jazz musicians from a group called Sonny Clay’s Colored Idea, drinking and dancing with six local white women. The band is deported and black musicians are banned from touring in Australia until 1954.

Brits Walk Out Of Satchmo Show

1932, Apr 10 : When Louis Armstrong plays his first-ever British show, at The London Palladium, London, England, UK, Europe, a considerable number of audience members walk out. Angered by the insult to Armstrong, a young man, Nat Gonella, attempts to trip up some of the departing crowd as they leave the theatre. Gonella will become a jazz star in his own right.

Banning Races From Dancing Together

1940, May 30 : A feature in the California Eagle newspaper, headlined Leaders Protest Dance Hall Ban, reports that the Los Angeles Police Department has refused to issue a Mexican American social organization called La Fiesta Club a permit to host a concert featuring the Benny Goodman Orchestra at LA’s Shrine Auditorium, because the police, along with conservative Los Angeles City Council members, are afraid that whites, blacks, Mexicans, and Filipinos might be allowed to dance together.

Paul Robeson’s Passport Revoked

1950 Aug 3 : The government of the USA revokes the passport of politically-active singer Paul Robeson, beginning an eight-year legal battle to have it restored. Robeson’s struggle against censorship and racism will inspire The Manic Street Preachers to write their 2001 song Let Robeson Sing.

Racially-motivated Police Action Against Jazzers

1955, Oct 8 : Ella Fitzgerald‘s manager, Norman Granz, holds a press conference in Houston, Texas, USA, declaring that the previous night’s arrest of Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespieand Illinois Jacquet, on gambling charges was racially motivated, because local police did not want mixed audiences at concerts in the city.

False Arrest Destroys Pop Group’s Career

1959, Aug 10 : All four male members of The Platters are arrested in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, for aiding and abetting prostitution. They are later acquitted but, even so, the scandal destroys the group’s career.

First ‘Inter-racial touching” on TV

1968 Apr 2 : Petula Clark stars in her first North American tv spectacular, Petula, broadcast by NBC in the USA. Her guest is Harry Belafonte. The show marks the first time a man and woman of different races exchanged physical contact on American television, and causes considerable controversy. Doyle Lott, a vice president from Chrysler, the show’s sponsor, is present at the taping, and objects to the “interracial touching”, fearing that it would offend white Southern viewers — this at a time when racial conflict was a major issue in the U.S. Lott insisted they substitute a different take, but the show’s makers refused. Soon after, Doyle Lott was relieved of all his responsibilities at Chrysler.

Anti-Nazi Rally By Punk Rockers

1978 Sep 24 : An Anti-Nazi rally and rock gig organised by Rock Against Racism is held in Brockwell Park, Herne Hill, London, UK, featuring Elvis Costello And The Attractions, Sham 69, Aswadand Misty In Roots.

Singer Pays For Food Trucks

2014 Dec 7 John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen pay for several food trucks to go to Lincoln Square in New York City, USA, to provide free food for protesters demonstrating against the death of Eric Garner, racism and police brutality.

Springsteen Condemns Trump Support For Racism

2017 Jan 2 : During an interview on the podcast WTF With Marc Maron, Bruce Springsteen criticises US President Elect Donald Trump, stating, “I’ve felt disgust before, but never the kind of fear that you feel now.” He goes on to add, “When you let that genie out of the bottle – racism, bigotry, intolerance – when you let those things out of the bottle, they don’t go back in the bottle that easily. If they go back in at all.”

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