Seeds of Discontent, episode 9 (African Americans and entertainment, Odetta)
- Publication date
Seeds of Discontent was a 1968 radio documentary series that explored discontented social groups and organizations attempting to improve their conditions in American society. Created by Hartford Smith, Jr. and Wayne State University’s WDET in Detroit, the series addressed topics including race relations, civil rights, poverty, youth, and crime. Smith’s connections with the community as a social worker allowed him to record hours of interviews with people about their lives and their opinions on contemporary issues. This episode is the first of four focusing on African American entertainers. It features the singer Odetta.
The series, distributed by the National Educational Radio Network, was made publicly available as part of the Unlocking the Airwaves project, a digital humanities initiative from University of Maryland and the University of Wisconsin-Madison launched in summer 2021. Learn more at https://www.unlockingtheairwaves.org/.
- Contact Information
- Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, Wisconsin Historical Society, 816 State Street, Madison, WI 53704, telephone 608-264-6466. For reference inquiries or questions regarding specific titles in WCFTR's collection, please email our digital reference service at firstname.lastname@example.org
- 2021-12-07 21:05:53
- Stephen P. Jarchow
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- Speaker 0 00:00:03 This is the ninth in a series of programs, entitled seeds of discontent to present the program. Here is Hartford Smith, Jr. Supervisor of the screening and intake unit maintained by the Michigan department of social services, delinquency rehabilitation programs, Mr. Smith, during the past three weeks, our topic has been the American Negro, a historical perspective. He'll have heard the voices, concerns, hopes, and disappointments of his selected group of older Negro men who were a part of this bloodstain degrading yet in many ways, very proud history. Many of the problems that they faced are still with us today. Their sense of being wronged of being hurt and angered by better than a century of broken promises have been passed on through generations and formed the basis of the current level of discontent among the explosive action-oriented Negro youth throughout the country. The severity of history has not been the same for all Negroes. Therefore the tone and nature of response will be different on tonight's program. We will began an examination of various tones, feelings and attitudes of Negroes from many different walks of life. Our starting point will be the field of entertainment. Speaker 1 00:01:25 Oh, oh, Dan, Speaker 0 00:02:43 The voice of Odetta. One of the pharma was the artists and the folk singing field. Listen, as she reveals in her own words, how the problems of the American Negro look from the top Speaker 2 00:02:55 Field of entertainment, um, it's perhaps, um, further advanced, um, as far as the Negro participation in it is concerned. Um, that's mostly sort of out front and, um, the, um, distance ahead of the rest of the fields is not that far really. Um, I, in other words, I find that there is discrimination in, um, in show business. Um, I think I've used before the examples of, um, when there is one, um, uh, classical male or female singer, um, there are other classical singers Negro, but, uh, they can't seem to get beyond the hump, you know, um, when marina Anderson was going, uh, Dorothy Maynard had a very difficult time of it. She never really sort of float out into her own. Um, I was asked once the question, well, isn't that because of the talent that is involved, um, both of them were excellent, um, artists, um, there seems to be more than one white woman operatic singer out there, you know, not higher as long as of, uh, uh, popularity. Speaker 2 00:04:37 Um, we, we have, um, um, popular singers when, um, um, Lena Horne was going, Dorothy Dandridge had a difficult time of it, um, uh, recently because we have several performers, male performers out there, um, who are in this, uh, uh, uh, very popular, um, uh, area. Um, but you don't have, you don't have, uh, I, um, several singers, you know, it has to be, it's like one where we're limited to one comedian, uh, or one pop singer or one focusing or, or, you know, it's, it's like, it's, it's so, uh, no, in, in the back of the scenes, um, I think that, um, we all noticed that it was only after, um, the Negro community complained and complained bitterly and, and in several different ways that, um, we saw, um, uh, Negro models on television, you know, in the commercials and things, or, or Negro, uh, newscasters. Speaker 2 00:06:08 Um, and that is also curious because they, most, all of them are in the, well, how should I, maybe I should explain it by telling you a story. There was once to show, um, Jamaica with a horn and a friend of mine said, maybe you should audition for the role of something rather. And, um, he talked to some people he knew, and these people who were producing this thing, I ask them to describe me because after all Lena Horne was going to be the fair-haired beauty, you know, it's, it's, um, they have to be in the, or we noticed that the, the models are, um, could well be Caucasian with suntans now, Speaker 3 00:07:09 Um, based on what you told me so far, there seems to then be a lot of image building, as opposed to a simple recognition of talent where it is involved. There seems to be a only room for a limited numbers. Speaker 2 00:07:26 I say, yes. Um, there's now we've been working now about 15 years, we have a fair amount of talent going, and, um, yet we can't seem to break beyond the something rather. I don't really quite know what it is. I've often wondered. Um, um, you have other talented focusing is coming along and the feeling is that overnight, um, records on radio. Um, I saw recently the film festival that was taken at the Newport folk festival and it, um, people, the people filming it have this, um, this, um, thought or image of beauty, not just the people filming this, but, um, all through this country, beauty is I remember growing up and I never, I never saw me on the billboards or in the movies, you know, um, and the people who are in show business, both in front of the curtain and the back of it, or back of the film cameras are people who are grown up in the atmosphere of the United States. And they do not all of a sudden dropped this mantle or attitudes when they go into one field or another. So it stands to reason that it's still there, unless someone, um, has worked very hard to get rid of, um, some of the fallacies that we are working within, right. Speaker 3 00:09:25 Let's move on and look at, and the concept of, um, uh, equal pay for equal work and equal talent if we can put it on that basis. Um, do you feel, um, based on your contacts, your own personal experience that, uh, uh, the me girl entertainer, um, as a rule, um, can demand the same sound or he has a white performance? Speaker 2 00:09:55 Well, let's take it from, from the base. And the base would be called a union that, uh, any performer would have to belong to one union on the other. And so the starting out fee would be equalized. Um, not because it was planned that way necessarily, but because it is because of the unions now, as, as time goes on in the field, um, as, um, your, your popularity grows. So then it grows the salary that you ask for off. A lot of the salary is determined by, um, popular records, I'd say, um, it's, it's, it's even in this area and money talks, you know, that's, that's, that seems to be the heart, the heart of, um, uh, uh, judgements and, and, uh, or respect, you know, it's, it's, uh, it's a dreadful kind of thing, but it still is that way within the entertainment field. Speaker 2 00:11:09 So in, in that area, the, um, stabilizing, um, uh, unit would be unions. So there isn't, there isn't the same kind of, um, uh, paying as there's like, there's a folk song called down, um, lowlands. And in the song, the sailor is saying, um, um, a dollar and a half is white. Man's pay no $5 a day is white. Man's pay my dollar and a half a day. Um, and don't even need an explanation as to, as to what the situation is, what, what the color of the, of the man who's getting the dollar and a half, you know, I think I'm rambling. Speaker 3 00:12:09 You then feel that, um, the, the unions, uh, in this area have stabilized list so that it is not so much of a problem. Uh, um, it has been said that, um, by some, at least that a, a rookie, uh, white amateur group can sometimes, uh, zone to the time, uh, overnight in terms of, um, of salary, um, um, of location as to where they play. And I was wondering, uh, in comparison to, um, to Negro performance, if you, if you'd seen any discrepancies in this area, or you feel that the unions pretty much still control this, and it's related to the factor of it's popular community, Speaker 2 00:13:00 There is another, that is another, yeah, the, um, young bands or rock and roll now. Um, I'm not even sure if these kids belong to the union, been able to get enough money to, to join the unions. Now, in that situation, I can see that, uh, discrepancy and what they would get a night, um, because the, the black men in this country is, um, sometimes get the feeling that he's made to be taken advantage of. Now, also, as you mentioned, this, it creeps into my mind that there are an awful lot of, um, blues singers. Um, who've been admired by and, um, and copied, um, by young white musicians are kids who are trying to learn something and, um, will, they will come off with the exact same sound as a group or an individual. And the original individual is not booked outside of his own neighborhood, let's say, or, or state, uh, but these other kids can go all over this country singing his stuff, you know, and we were at one point saying, you know, it's, uh, like the right sound, uh, the Negroes have the right sound, but the wrong color, you know, Speaker 3 00:14:44 Uh, you mentioned bookings, you've mentioned that the popular appeal of, of a particular group would have something to do with the bookends, but I, I wonder if anything, beyond that, look at some of the top spots in the country. Um, and do you feel that there are discrepancies are our top bookings one difficult to do obtain on the part of Negroes, uh, as opposed to white entertainers? Well, Speaker 2 00:15:16 Let's say the top, top rooms or hotels things now, in order to, um, go into the top hotels, you would have had to in some way, get the kind of reputation, um, smaller rooms, uh, or gotten to an agent who works these top rooms. And, um, I think the ratio of, um, uh, Negros in the top rooms, I think there's a follow through here, you know, um, there's one or two loud and allow them, um, uh, per lifetime of the popularity of the one or two who were up there, you know? Speaker 3 00:16:12 Okay. I'd like to move to some more personal aspects of your life as an entertainer, as it applies to things such as old problems that you might've encountered and public accommodations during your travels, by that, I mean, um, uh, hotel rooms that were made available to you, have you had any special problems in this area? Speaker 2 00:16:41 Um, there was one incident, oh God. Where was that? It was in the south. Maybe I think of it as I'm speaking. And at one point I made the decision that, um, we would play in sing to any students, um, segregated school or not. Um, I felt that we could do that and I felt that we should do that because, um, there were all kinds of people get to and perhaps do something. And we went to the school and, um, when we got there, registered into the hotel and went upstairs and, um, I heard it, but no one talked to me about it. First of all, one of the remarks was that, well, we thought that her bass player was white. Um, both bill and I had registered in the hotel. Speaker 2 00:18:01 And, um, they told bill that he couldn't eat and they in the dining room. And, um, by the time I'm hearing this it's time for us to go to the concert. And, um, bill is saying that the clerk at the desk, uh, said that we couldn't use the front door. And, um, I said, well, I never thought that rang a room, you know, anything to do with, uh, you know, uh, doors, but, uh, phone or back, but then it was, it was an issue then, right? So we go downstairs and this clerk is there yelling and screaming and bill is putting down his bass. I said, Hey, the only way he can argue is for us to stand up here and argue with him. Right. So the thing to do is just to walk out. So we walk out of the front door, right. Speaker 2 00:19:01 Um, right there on the campus. We were put in, uh, to, um, office kind of thing, where it was, um, it was one, like a huge room had been divided. And, um, we were told that these offices over here where they were all locked up, you know, so we were sort of in public room where people were coming in and out, that was a, um, group male group on the show. And we opened the show. And when we came off, we found that those office rooms had been opened and they were dressing in the privacy of the office rooms. Speaker 2 00:19:41 Um, and it was, oh, well, I'll go further. I'll go further. Um, I was infuriated with all that had happened. Um, we got back to the hotel and went two doors down to restaurant, which was a Negro restaurant. And, um, we walked in, people were there, came over and said, hello to us and how pleased they were that we were there. Um, none of them had been to the concert. Right. And, um, how proud they were that we were at the hotel. And I remember the shame, you know, absolute shame of health. And, um, it was with this, um, experience that I said, Hey, for get, just forget the segregated things. My Bob's just forget it because I'm not going to go back. And to, um, that situation there would needs to be helped. And I realized that there are kids there, um, who are not necessarily of the opinion of it, of the school and segregation, Speaker 3 00:21:07 This example happening in the south, aside from, from, from the south, have you encountered, uh, very many difficulties in this area. Okay. And looking back over your life as a performer, um, is there anything about the way this society has treated you or what, if anything that the society has, has done or their treatment of you that, that, that fury H you most, that, that causes you the most personal concern Speaker 2 00:21:47 Within the field of my work, the slowness of, um, mass communications within the mass communications field. Um, it's very difficult at times to see kids that, uh, you've had some part in influencing, um, uh, and sometimes using material and ideas that are yours, uh, zooming to the top television call me, um, seems to be difficult. The unimaginative people, supposedly with imagination, um, who have scripts. And if the author hasn't put in, um, um, description of a Negro, um, or if there is no strife between two people, not there, they don't even think in terms of, um, an actor or an actress as being good for the role necessarily, you know, um, what else? There's one thing I've done that I wouldn't do again, I'm gone. I bought five years ago. I guess we played in a movie called sanctuary. And, um, I did not, I did not object to the part then, but since then, I've grown a little bit and I wouldn't do it again. They character that I played, um, was one who helped keep alive the myth that, um, your black servant will give up his life for you, you know, Speaker 1 00:24:18 Right in there, it's showing them wing. , all them. God is God, . Speaker 0 00:27:04 You have just heard the music and commentary of Odetta. One of the outstanding folk artists of our time, her reactions suggest that in the field of entertainment, the abilities of an individual Negro can make some difference. But even here, there are limits and impositions that go beyond the individual, the shade of color of one's skin, or the degree of straightness of one's hair, presents obstacles and barriers against reaping the total benefits of one's contribution to the society and what she calls his own. As long as these barriers exist. Can it be said that there is room at the top? Does the top really exists for the Negro performer? If there is no top, what does this do to the motivational system at the man at the bottom? There is ample reason to suggest that socially and psychologically the top is a myth. If by some process of magic, all Negroes could become Odetta is our Belafonte's overnight. Speaker 0 00:28:06 There would still be a tremendous psychological and credibility gaps surrounding the theory of gaining acceptance by proving oneself, by performing admirably and greatly voice sold loudly throughout the century. One can, well, imagine what the distance of the gap must be to the ordinary Negro citizen or youngster who never occupies the spotlight or recognition of the stage until this gap is closed. And there is some sincere recognition of man's work as a man, as a creative thinking band. The current level of discontent among Negroes will continue to Mount next week, Odetta Dick Gregory and other performing artists will voice their concerns and feelings about the conditions, troubles and problems of the American Negro and today's society. Speaker 4 00:29:00 This was the ninth in a series of programs, entitled seeds of discontent presenting the program was Hartford Smith, Jr. Supervisor of the screening and intake unit maintained by the Michigan department of social services, delinquency rehabilitation programs. This program was produced by Dave Lewis and engineered by David Pierce for the Wayne state university tape network. This is Wayne state university radio.
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