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Aaron Copland : Black Listed

John Simkin

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After the Second World War the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began to investigate people with left-wing views in the entertainment industry. In June, 1950, three former FBI agents and a right-wing television producer, Vincent Harnett, published Red Channels, a pamphlet listing the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organizations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted. The names had been compiled from FBI files and a detailed analysis of the Daily Worker, a newspaper published by the American Communist Party.

A free copy of Red Channels was sent to those involved in employing people in the entertainment industry. All those people named in the pamphlet were blacklisted until they appeared in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and convinced its members they had completely renounced their radical past. Aaron Copland was one of those named and this ended his commissions from Hollywood.

You can hear some of his fantastic music here:

Fanfare for a Common Man (Classical)


Fanfare for a Common Man (Jazz)

Fanfare for a Common Man (Rock)


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Aaron Copland was in fact an anti-communist but it did not stop him being blacklisted. He was a strong critic of Joseph Stalin and decried the lack of artistic freedom in the Soviet Union and argued that censorship deprived artists of "the immemorial right of the artist to be wrong".

Why was he blacklisted? Could it be because he was Jewish? The vast majority of those blacklisted were in fact Jewish.


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A bit of a complicated character.He seemed to drift on the periphery of the radical scene, as others did. Interesting how he seems to have adopted the ''visigoth philosophy'' of ''nothing without gain'' while it also flourished in the mor e and more NAZI controlled Germany. Also his first film score was of mice and men by Steinbeck, another enigmatic character who worked for the OSS but wrote marvels like Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. He seems to assert himself after Shostakovich's persecution but took a ''liberal stance'', shifting towards Kennedy. IOW did not take the path of many at this time like a more leftward shift. An interesting character it seems to me.


Edited by John Dolva
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