Thursday, August 11, 2011


And I'm not talking the Hollywood bullshit kind.

From AlterNet:

Progressive Reader: Just to recap. What are some of the most telling moments of Tony Bennett’s political activism?

David Evanier: Marching at Selma, refusing to sing in the South after witnessing a cross burning from his car, refusing to sing in apartheid South Africa, insisting that Count Basie have first billing over him wherever they appeared, insisting that black performers be allowed to stay in the hotels where they where starring in the nightclubs. Also, asked if he would support his sons if they decided to evade the draft, Bennett [who served at the front lines in Germany as a U.S. infantry soldier in World War II] said, “All the way. In fact, I’d say that’s exactly what I’ve brought them up to do. I’ve told them to hate war.”

Reader: What or who do you think most influenced Bennett’s politics?

Evanier: Tony was most influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King, the voice of conscience of his generation; by his father, John, who expressed great compassion for human suffering and spoke to Tony about his heroes; by Paul Robeson and Gandhi; by his sister, Mary Chiappa, who also was deeply committed to civil rights; and by his older mentor, Frank Sinatra, who was a civil rights advocate when Tony was a soldier. Sinatra filmed “The House I Live In” about racial equality in 1945 and was outspoken on behalf of the civil rights movement from the outset. Harry Belafonte also had a profound effect on him and called upon Tony to take part in the march from Selma to Montgomery and in other civil rights activities.

More here.

Of course, I've loved Tony Bennett for many years. I even got to see him perform once, at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo of all places, back in the late 90s. But until now I had absolutely no knowledge of his left-wing street credentials. That is, the guy actually participated in the famous Selma march with MLK. I mean, that's enough, really, but he's been quietly doing his activist thing for virtually his entire career. Not quite the same thing I once called for in my "Real Art" post some years ago, but the above linked article goes on to explain that Bennett has long been conscious of the impact his singing can have on the public's political imagination, shying away from negativity, and refusing to sing anything that is pro-war or "jingoistic." He even walked away from a recording contract with Columbia Records during the Vietnam era because the label refused to allow him to set some peace poetry to music.

This is very cool. Tony Bennett's a big lefty. I love him all the more.