Exotic Korla Pandit hid race under swami persona

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-10-13 20:21Z by Steven

Exotic Korla Pandit hid race under swami persona


Jessica Zack

Eric Christensen grew up in San Francisco in the 1950s and remembers his mother, “like a lot of women then, being transfixed by Korla Pandit on television. He wore a jeweled turban and had these mesmerizing eyes that made women feel he could see right through them. Korla was this otherworldly, captivating guy, and we all thought he and his music were from another land.”

Christensen, who lives in Mill Valley, and his former KGO TV colleague John Turner of Berkeley have chronicled Pandit’s life story in their new documentary “Korla,” which has its Bay Area premiere at San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora on Aug. 20.

From his first 1949 episodes of “Adventures in Music” on Southern California’s KTLA, Pandit rode an almost 50-year-long wave of success — as a TV sensation, prolific recording artist (13 albums with Berkeley’s Fantasy Records) and “grandfather of exotica music” — based not only on his keyboard prowess but on his enigmatic swami persona.

With his heavily kohl-rimmed eyes and upturned half-smile, Pandit coaxed unusual sounds from the Hammond B-3 organ, playing “musical gems from far and near” — faux-Polynesian sounds, Hawaiian war chants, “hypnotiques” — while extolling the virtues of “divine consciousness” and “the universal language of music.”

Yet, unbeknownst to his legions of fans until after his death in Petaluma in 1998, at age 77, Pandit’s hypnotic Svengali look and supposedly Hindu name were part of an expertly crafted fiction of self-invention. A magazine profile by R. J. Smith in 2001 revealed that Pandit was actually African American, a minister’s son born John Roland Redd, from Columbia, Mo

…The film incorporates interviews with music and sociology experts — including Carlos Santana (who likens Pandit to Miles Davis), The Chronicle’s Radio Waves columnist Ben Fong-Torres and UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Harry Edwards — as well as with Pandit’s nephew Gary Cloud, to examine, says Christensen, “this amazing act, even by show business standards. This wasn’t an act that occurred onstage for an hour or two, this was 24/7, all through his life. Korla put on this persona and couldn’t take it off. Living a lie on a daily basis must have been very difficult.”

“Korla’s life story illustrates what African Americans knew at the time: ‘If I can be anything other than black, my life could change dramatically,’” says Stanford University Assistant Professor of History Allyson Hobbs, whose new book “A Chosen Exile” explores the stories of individuals who passed as someone else racially from the late 19th century through the 1950s. “If they could just twist people’s perception of them even one degree — in this case, from black to another minority — doors previously closed would open.”…

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Musician’s life brings more than passing interest in passing

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-10-13 17:15Z by Steven

Musician’s life brings more than passing interest in passing

San Francisco Chronicle

Leah Garchik, Features Columnist

As colleagues at KGO-TV, Eric Christensen and John Turner — Eric was a sports producer, John a news editor/arts producer — shared a passion for exotic cultural phenomena. Retired, they’ve combined know-how with that passion to make the doc “Korla, the Movie,” about organist Korla Pandit.

Turban-wearing Pandit, who said he was born in India, had his own TV show in the late ’40s and early ’50s. He was known for playing exotic “foreign” music. He was living in Petaluma when he died, in 1998. A subsequent magazine profile revealed that he was African American, born in Missouri.

A documentary about Pandit as an exotic performer — the likes of Yma Sumac — would be interesting at any time. But now, in the midst of a national discussion about identity that intensified with the recent revelation that Rachel Dolezal had chosen to identify as black, the movie’s tale of “passing” seems particularly relevant. It will be shown Aug. 20 at the Museum of the African Diaspora…

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New Documentary Reveals the Strange Life of Korla Pandit

Posted in Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2015-09-27 15:37Z by Steven

New Documentary Reveals the Strange Life of Korla Pandit

NBC Bay Area (KNTV)
San Jose, California

In the category of unusual entertainers, there are few who could hold a candle to Korla Pandit. And now a new documentary will feature his life. Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

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Posted in Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2015-09-23 19:02Z by Steven


Appleberry Pictures
San Rafael, California
April 2005

A Film by John Turner & Eric Christensen

Korla Pandit was a spiritual seeker, a television pioneer and the godfather of exotica music. Known for his hypnotic gaze, Korla captured the hearts of countless Los Angeles housewives in the 50s with his live television program that featured a blend of popular tunes and East Indian compositions, theatrically performed on a Hammond B3 organ. In the 90s he resurfaced as a cult figure with the tiki/lounge music aficionados, filling clubs, skating rinks and bars with retro hipsters. Often pegged as a “man of mystery,” Korla lived up to that billing when he took an amazing secret with him to his grave in 1998 – one that is revealed in Korla.

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