June 22

This Day in History

Music

Jun 22, 1950:

Bernstein, Copland, Seeger and others are named as Communists

The Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s famously ended the careers of numerous film-industry professionals and forced others to avoid blacklisting by repudiating their political beliefs and "naming names" of suspected Communist sympathizers to the House Committee on Un-Activities (HUAC).  But Hollywood actors, directors and screenwriters were not the only victims of the Cold War anti-Communist purges in the entertainment industry. Prominent figures in the music industry were also targeted, including Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Lena Horne, Pete Seeger and Artie Shaw, all of whom were named publicly as suspected Communist sympathizers on this day in 1950, in the infamous publication Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.

Red Channels was a tract issued by the right-wing journal Counterattack, the self-described "Newsletter of Facts to Combat Communism." By 1950, Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC had already been at work for several years, and figures like singer Paul Robeson and the so-called Hollywood Ten had already been blacklisted, but Red Channels sought to go further, exposing what it called a widespread Communist effort to achieve "domination of American broadcasting and telecasting, preparatory to the day when…[the] Party will assume control of this nation as the result of a final upheaval and civil war." Some even believe that the men responsible for Red Channels—including several former members of the FBI—were given illegal access to the confidential files of HUAC in preparing their report, which exposed 151 names in the entertainment industry to public scrutiny and the threat of blacklisting

Joining famous names like Orson Welles, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller and Dorothy Parker on the Red Channels list were the aforementioned Bernstein, Copland, Horne, Seeger and Shaw and numerous other musical figures, including the legendary harmonica player Larry Adler, the folksinger Burl Ives, former Library of Congress folklorist Alan Lomax and The New York Times music critic Olin Downes. The evidence of Communist leanings offered in Red Channels included Lena Horne’s appearance on the letterhead of a South African famine relief program, Aaron Copland’s appearance on a panel at a 1949 Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace and Leonard Bernstein’s affiliation with the Committee to Re-Elect Benjamin J. Davis, a black, socialist New York City councilman.

In the end, Red Channels caused some of those named to be blacklisted—Pete Seeger, most famously—to fight publicly to prove their "loyalty" to the United States and still others to repudiate their political pasts and provide the HUAC with names of other suspected prominent leftists.

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