4.5 The Cold War
Music’s close association with politics did not end with the defeat of the Nazis (no matter how much the high modernists of the 1950s hoped it would). In the early years of America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, institutions like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the House Un-American Activities Commission (HUAC) or Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee within the US Senate investigated persons suspected of being communist agents and purveyors of communist propaganda. They were particularly interested in artists active in Hollywood, and even with musicians.
The composer Aaron Copland was called to testify to a closed hearing of Senator McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953 because of his involvement in a foreign exchange programme, and his state-sponsored foreign travel to Latin America and Italy. He had already been placed on a State Department blacklist banning his music from the American libraries in some 90 countries controlled by the United States Information Agency (Crist 2008, p. 491).
If you wish, you can read a transcript of Copland’s testimony here
Similarly, the American folk musician Pete Seeger was summoned before a sub-committee of HUAC in 1955. You can read a transcript of his interview.
Seeger was happy to answer questions about the songs he sang, but was not prepared to divulge where or with whom he sung them. It’s fascinating to read of the attempts of his interrogators to bait him in order to divulge his political beliefs. Equally, it is striking to see how Seeger attempts to divest the songs themselves from the political situations in which they may have been used.