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Korla Pandit: An ‘African American’ camouflaged his identity as an ‘Indian’ to break into music business

His real identity was exposed in July 2001, after his death, in an edition of Los Angeles Magazine as being John Roland Redd, an African American, not an Indian, born in St Louis, Missouri

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Korla Pandit Image: lolwot
  • Korla Pandit’s real identity is John Roland Redd, an African American
  • He played the piano and the organ- sometimes both at once
  • During his 900 performances he never spoke on camera

A very prominent Indian personality of 1950s in US, Korla Pandit, became one of the exotic icons. He came to fame when he appeared on a 15 minute show, called “Adventures in Music”, beamed across the US.

Displaying elegance through his jewelled turban and fashionable coat and tie, he played the piano and the organ—sometimes both at once—creating music that was both familiar and exotic. He was a man of mystery and his mesmerising gaze won him countless fans, both men and women.

Press releases from that time say that Pandit was born in New Delhi, India, the son of a Brahmin government worker and a French opera singer.  A magician on the piano, he studied music in England and later moved to the United States, where he mastered the organ at the University of Chicago. Except his talent, none of this was true.

Two years after he died in 1998, his real identity was exposed in July 2001 edition of Los Angeles Magazine as being John Roland Redd, an African American, not an Indian, born in St Louis, Missouri, who had transformed himself in the Indian persona to break into the music business. In 1939, his sister Frances Redd appeared in a film called Midnight Shadow, with a central character named Prince Alihabad. However, this revelation never affected his prestige.

This brief video explains why –

During his 900 performances he never spoke on camera, instead designed only to communicate with viewers through that endearing stare. With friends like Errol Flynn, Bob Hope, and Sabu, the Elephant Boy, he became one of the first TV stars ever. Eventually, he conceded his TV performances, because of an argument over the contract, to the young pianist Liberace. And the way he came to fame is one of those only-in-America tales where the audience and the performer are both invested in the illusion.

A documentary by John Turner and Eric Christiansen, “Korla” chronicles Pandit’s extraordinary life and career. The filmmakers grew up watching Korla on TV and listening to his music.

In an article published on What It Means to be America, Turner wrote that he was in touch with Pandit till his death.  “I first got to know Korla Pandit in 1990, while I was working at KGO TV in San Francisco. I was producing a series on Bay Area eccentrics and a colleague at the station mentioned that Pandit had a live show on KGO in the ’50s”, Turner wrote.

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His self-invented persona had a familiar way of greeting by saying ‘Namastey’ to everyone. By considering his clothings and way of greeting, it was impossible to concede the fact that he was not an Indian. Turner and Eric found that Pandit was indeed John Roland Redd, one of seven children born to Baptist pastor Ernest Redd and Doshia O’Nina Johnson. His love of music took hold in childhood and he played a mean boogie-woogie piano.

The filmmakers tracked one of Redd’s childhood friends in a desire to solve the mystery behind this exotic personality. They got to know that there wasn’t much mingling between the races, as Jim Crow laws were in effect. Blacks weren’t served at the soda fountain and if they wanted to buy clothes at the department store, they couldn’t even try them on.

Turner said, “Hollywood was also kind to shape shifters who’d invented their biographies. And Pandit and his wife understood that Americans knew very little of India outside of the magical rope-climbing swamis or men-of-mystery they saw in the movies. With their sets and music, they created an exotic escape in people’s living rooms. Female fans of Pandit have told us that he was their first teenage crush. He was an image that came through their TV screens that they could safely fantasize about.”

-by Pashchiema, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @pashchiema

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  • AJ Krish

    The whole Indian persona adopted by Redd was intended to get him into the spotlight. If it is so easy to fool the public for so many years, I really wonder whether a turban and a fancy coat is all that is required to be an Indian.It truly is amazing that he never spoke on television for all his 900 performances. Talk about his determination!

    • Pashchiema Bhatia

      May be that’s why he is known as the man of mystery. But this never affected his reputation even after his real identity came to light. His endearing eyes and music is all that is still remembered.

  • Pete

    Looked like Tony Curtis with a turban.

Next Story

Indian Cities Mumbai, New Delhi and Bengaluru face Majority of Cyber Attacks

As the digital footprint of India increases through capital intensive projects, hackers are targeting data and large scale disruption like never before

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Cyber Attacks
Smart cities, financial services and transportation sectors lead the rankings in terms of Cyber Attacks. Pixabay

 There has been a 26 per cent increase in Cyber Attacks in India and Mumbai, New Delhi and Bengaluru together accounted for roughly 38 per cent of all attacks in the July-September period, a new report said on Wednesday.

The report prepared by Bengaluru-headquartered telecom solutions provider Subex identified over 3,500 modular malware samples in the country, registering a whopping 37 per cent increase.

Smart cities, financial services and transportation sectors lead the rankings in terms of cyber attacks, said the “State of Internet of Things (IoT) Security Report” for the third quarter (July-September period).

“As the digital footprint of India increases through capital intensive projects, hackers are targeting data and large scale disruption like never before,” said said Vinod Kumar, Managing Director and CEO, Subex.

“The increase in cyber attacks against the country and the strong geopolitical correlation indicate high levels of interest in targeting our critical infrastructure. Hackers are working to improve their ability to monetize cyber attacks,” he warned.

Malware of varying degrees of sophistication are being reported from a variety of deployments, including new projects surrounding renewable energy.

Most malware detected (36 per cent) could be traced to sources on the Dark Web while as much as 14 per cent of malware couldn’t be traced to a known source pointing to the arrival of new actors and malware shops on the scene,” the findings showed.

Cyber Attacks
There has been a 26 per cent increase in Cyber Attacks in India and Mumbai, New Delhi and Bengaluru together accounted for roughly 38 per cent of all attacks in the July-September period. Pixabay

The detection of malware connected with critical infrastructure projects has also registered an increase.

“This implies that hackers are targeting large scale disruption and are working to increase the cost associated with managing such projects as also negatively impact future investments in them,” the report added.

ALSO READ: Things You Need to Consider before Filling a Lawsuit

Independent hackers are increasingly feeling the need to monetize cyber attacks as the unit cost of malware has risen in the last quarter. Further, it is becoming increasingly difficult to source high-grade malware from multiple sources due to various factors, the report added. (IANS)