Concert Review: UNAMERICANS: TALENTED AND TARGETED (MUSE/IQUE at Huntington and Skirball)

Post image for Concert Review: UNAMERICANS: TALENTED AND TARGETED (MUSE/IQUE at Huntington and Skirball)

by Jakera Willis on June 26, 2023

in Concerts / Events,Theater-Los Angeles


This past weekend, the patrons at MUSE/IQUE were told some hard truths about what America was like during the mid-20th century as the powers that be feared far-left movements and those who embraced, or were suspected to embrace, ideologies like communism and socialism. The concert, UNAMERICANS: Talented and Targeted, chronicles the Hollywood Red Scare and how artists during the ’40s and ’50s were blacklisted and how they rose above it to define the true American sounds of that decade and beyond.

I must have skipped this lesson in school, because this was as much a concert as it was a quick and fascinating history lesson. The history around the Red Scare and those who were blacklisted was bolstered with a complimentary exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center, Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare, which takes members through the stories of those who lost and sacrificed so much for doing what they loved.

The show, directed by Rachel Worby, started with one of the most well-known songs in America and, perhaps, the world: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sung by studio vocalist Angie Fisher. Lyricist “Yip” Harburg (who wrote the words to Harold Arlen’s music) was blacklisted for twelve years because he was listed in a Red Channels pamphlet for refusing to identify communists, and was part of the socialist party. With composer  Jay Gorney, Harburg also wrote “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” which was tastefully sung by Tony-nominated actor Victor Dixon. The song’s minor chords and mellow tone highlighted the plight of those during the Great Depression.

Various mediums were used to share information during this unique concert: prose, monologues and short stories were acted out, and photos and video clips were shown. The authentic storytelling and unadulterated truth was captivating. One interesting moment was a recording of musical genius Hazel Scott and A. Clayton Powell Jr. (son of Scott and congressman A. Clayton Powell) recalling how powerful she was as a Black woman in the ’40s and how relentless she was as an activist. She’s so talented that she once played her famous song “Taking a Chance on Love” on two pianos, making her possibly the greatest pianist of her time. She was blacklisted, which almost ruined her career.

A beautiful a capella number followed later in the show, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” written by Pete Seeger, who was also blacklisted in the 1940s. The song was sung by DC6 Singers Collective.

The night ended with a gospel-esque feeling as Fisher, Dixon and the DC6 Singers Collective sang a traditional African American spiritual “”There Is A Balm in Gilead.” The concert was thought provoking and left the audience with these questions: What can this teach us about the times we live in today? Should we censor people who we don’t agree with or because of their political leanings and convictions? Have we made progress or is history going to repeat itself?

UNAMERICANS: Talented and Targeted
played June 21 and 22, 2023 at The Huntington; June 25, 2023 at The Skirball

Leave a Comment