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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’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

Safety Measures Needed After Chicago Is Hit By A Spate Of Home Break-Ins

With a spate of home break-ins occurring in Chicago recently, homeowners are rightly worried about their safety.

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A house on fire (Representational image). Pixabay

A host of home break-ins have occurred in Chicago recently, leaving residents concerned for their safety. On November, 3, two masked men broke into a home in Back of the Yards which was occupied by three adults and a young child. They then callously stole a number of personal effects and set the property on fire before fleeing the scene. Meanwhile, a series of thefts have been reported in the Portage Park neighborhood. Thankfully, these types of losses are usually covered by your home insurance policy. However, extra precautions should be taken by homeowners looking to fight back against Chicago’s home thieves.

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Sadly, the two intruders who set light to the South Damen property have not yet been caught. Pixabay

Safeguarding your home with a firearm

The two men who entered the property on South Damen Avenue were armed with a handgun which was used to strike the 56-year-old male occupant of the property. It’s in cases like this where homeowners can utilize their own firearms to protect both themselves and their property. Illinois state law permits individuals to keep guns in their home so long as they hold a valid FOID card. In October, a 71-year-old Chicago homeowner used his firearm to shoot an intruder in the hand, before the police turned up and arrested the suspect. Police confirmed that the elderly shooter would not face charges as he had a concealed carry license.

Make life difficult for burglars

It is not yet known how the masked duo broke into the family home in Back of the Yards. However, one of the simplest ways to prevent thieves from breaking into your property is to make it difficult for them. Safewise states that the average burglary takes just 10 minutes to complete as intruders want to be in and out as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of being caught. It’s best to avoid glass doors and surrounds as these are easily broken into. Similarly, don’t provide access to a criminal in the form of a large pet flap on your door. Additionally, you should always ensure that your home’s doors and windows are secured – even on hot night.

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American flag waves beside CCTV cameras. VOA

Hook up security cameras

Sadly, the two intruders who set light to the South Damen property have not yet been caught. Following the break-in, theft and subsequent fire, the pair reportedly ran away in an unknown direction and the local police and investigating the incident. However, one way to deter burglars is to hook up security cameras around your home. Studies show homes with security cameras are 300% less likely to broken into. This is because security cameras increase the risk of a criminal being caught after they’ve committed their crime as high-quality images will be released of them. Therefore, they are less likely to choose your home as a target, especially if you stick signs up outside your home stating that 24/7 video surveillance is in use.

Also Read: Online Hate Thriving Even After The Recent Hate Crime in The U.S.

With a spate of home break-ins occurring in Chicago recently, homeowners are rightly worried about their safety. But by keeping a firearm in your home, using security cameras and by making your home difficult to break into, you’ll be better protected than ever before.