Dvid Bruce: The Funniest People in Music — Prejudice, Problem-Solving

Prejudice

• Eartha Kitt once made a reservation at a London hotel, but when she walked into the hotel, and the clerk saw that she was black, he refused her a room. Ms. Kitt knew the reason she was refused a room, so she told the clerk that she wasn’t black — she was Spanish. The clerk wasn’t convinced. Sneering, he said, “So say something in Spanish.” Ms. Kitt replied, “Adios, motherf—,” and walked out.

• Early in her career, when Lena Horne was singing with Charlie Barnet’s band, she ran into a problem getting housing because of Jim Crow. When everyone checked into a hotel, Mr. Barnet told the clerks that Ms. Horne was a Cuban singer, while the members of the band helped with the deception by speaking nonsense that sounded like Spanish.

• In 1950, André Previn played jazz in Baltimore with a couple of African-American musicians. Afterward, he went into a diner, where a couple of white men asked him, “Why the hell don’t you play with your own kind?” Mr. Previn replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, I wanted to, but I couldn’t find two other Jews that swing.”

• The noted heterosexual (and inter-species dater) Kermit the Frog and lesbian singer k.d. lang once guested on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. At one point, Kermit appeared about to venture into sexist territory. Fortunately, Ms. lang warned him not to go there. Kermit gulped — and did not go there.

• Because of the Jim Crow laws that prevented gospel singer Mahalia Jackson from eating in white-only restaurants or sleeping in white-only hotels, she bought a Cadillac for when she toured in the South. Her car had to be large enough for her to carry food in it — and to sleep in it.

• Before the beginning of World War II, contralto Marian Anderson’s reputation spread rapidly, and she was invited to sing in Germany, which was then ruled by Adolf Hitler. However, when the Germans discovered that Ms. Anderson was an African American, they withdrew the offer.

• In 1931, jazz musician Louis Armstrong returned to his native New Orleans, where he appeared on a local radio show. Mr. Armstrong was forced to introduce himself on the show because the white announcer refused to announce a black musician.

• During the Jim Crow days, Pierre Monteux tried to register at a hotel, but he was told that it was a hotel for colored people only. Mr. Monteux protested, “But I am colored — pink.”

Problem-Solving

• While Emma Albani was performing Desdemona to Signor Tamagno’s Otello, Signor Tamagno insisted that the stage contain three steps down which he would roll when he died after strangling Desdemona on a bed on a platform at the top of the stairs. Unfortunately, although the stage did have the three steps, it had no platform on which the bed could stand. Therefore, four men knelt on their hands and knees and supported the bed on which Ms. Albani, as Desdemona, was strangled.

• Some members of Duke Ellington’s band drank too much, coming to performances drunk and posing a problem for Mr. Ellington, who had to either stop their alcohol abuse or get rid of them. Mr. Ellington used to deal with the problem by setting an impossible tempo, and then having the drunken musician attempt to give a solo. After the drunken soloist had made a fool of himself, he would either decide to stay sober or he would quit. No more problem.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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