1950s

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1950 – 1959

1950s. USA. Paul Robeson
In the 1950s, musicians as well as the denizens of Hollywood felt the force of the McCarthyite witchhunts and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. No-one more so than Paul Robeson.
According to Julian Petley’s article in Index of Censorship in 1998, Paul Robeson is “undoubtedly the most censored of all American musicians.” After years of harassment and vilification, the State Department revoked Robeson’s passport in 1950, and US officials prevented him from singing in Canada in 1952. He was subpoenaed by the House Committee in 1956.
Source: Index of Censorship: ‘Smashed Hits’ Volume 27, 6/1998, p. 15.

Febuary 1952. USA. Seeger & the Weavers
The Weavers had major hits in the early 1950s. The song ‘Wimoweh’ was recorded in 1951 by Pete Seeger and his band The Weavers, in a version faithful to the Zulu original. But this was the era of McCarthy witch hunts in America, and Pete Seeger’s politics made him an inevitable quarry of the commie-chasing House Un-American Affairs Committee. Just as ‘Wimoweh’ made its chart debut, a former trade union colleague of Seeger’s named Harvey Matusow denounced the musician to the committee. In “one of the looniest tales of the entire McCarthy era”, Harvey Matusow testified that communists were “preying on the sexual weakness of American youth”. And he was willing to give names – one of which was Pete Seeger. The public reaction was immediate. The press went wild, Weavers’ shows and television appearances were cancelled, radio stations banned their records and ‘Wimoweh’ tumbled off the charts. This was in February 1952. 
On August 18, 1955, Pete was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he refused to name personal and political associations stating it would violate his First Amendment rights.
“I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this,” he said.
Seeger’s refusal to testify led to a March 26, 1957 indictment for contempt of Congress; for some years, he had to keep the federal government apprised of where he was going any time he left the Southern District of New York. He was convicted in a jury trial in March 1961, and sentenced to a year in jail, but in May 1962 an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and overturned his conviction.
Pete Seeger did not appear on television for 17 years, until the Smothers Brothers broke the boycott.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_seeger and others.

1955. USA.
‘Black music’
15,000 letters, mostly written by young adults, are sent to Chicago rock stations accusing them of playing “dirty” records. Radio station WABB runs editorials called ‘About The Music You Won’t Hear on WABB’. The editorials promise that the station will censor itself of all controversial music, especially rhythm and blues – in other words, “black” music.

1958-1959. USA. Link Wray
Link Wray’s convention-shattering rock instrumental ‘Rumble’ ands in the U.S. Top 20 despite being banned in several radio markets for its violent evocations – even though it has no lyrics. The title of the song is thought to be suggestive of teenage gang violence. When Wray performs on American Bandstand, Dick Clark introduces him but doesn’t say the title of the song. Three-quarters Shawnee Indian, prolific Link Wray was later named by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Source: www.linkwraylegend.com

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A more extensive list of censorship incidents in the USA 1950-2000 was created by Eric Nuzum. See below, or see: web.archive.org/ericnuzum.com/banned/

1951
Radio stations ban Dottie O’Brien’s “Four or Five Times” and Dean Martin’s “Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am” fearing they are suggestive.

1952
The Weavers are blacklisted due to the leftist political beliefs and associations of several members.

1953
The phrase “gardenia perfume linger on a pillow” is altered to “a seaplane rising from an ocean billow” in the song “These Foolish Things.”

Six counties in South Carolina pass legislation outlawing jukebox operation anytime when within hearing distance of a church.

1954
Stephen Foster songs are edited for radio to remove words such as “massa” and “darky.”

Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass” is banned from radio because the lyrics are thought to condone heavy drinking.

Congressional representative Ruth Thompson introduces legislation that is meant to ban the mailing of certain “pornographic” records through the U.S. mail.

The Boston Catholic Youth Organization begins a campaign of policing dances and lobbying disc jockeys to stop playing “obscene” songs at record hops and on the radio.

For radio airplay the perceived drug reference “I get no kick from cocaine,” is changed to “I get perfume from Spain.” in Cole Porter’s classic “I Get A Kick Out of You.”

The editorial, “Control the Dimwits,” which appears in the September 24 issue of Billboard, condemns R&B songs that contain double entendre references to sex. In response, police in Long Beach, California, and Memphis, Tennessee, confiscate jukeboxes and fine their owners. Similar jukebox bans occur across the country.

In October, WDIA and several other large popular music radio stations ban several songs for their sexually suggestive lyrics. The station runs on-air announcements saying, “WDIA, your good-will station, in the interest of good citizenship, for the protection of morals and our American way of life does not consider this record, [name of song], fit for broadcast on WDIA. We are sure all you listeners will agree with us.”

The ABC network bans the Rosemary Clooney hit “Mambo Italiano,” saying it did not meet the network’s “standards for good taste.”

1955
Former radio deejay Pat Boone begins a career by releasing “sanitized” versions of black R&B hits. Boone’s versions of these songs often contain edited lyrics: such as substituting “drinkin’ Coca Cola” for “drinkin’ wine” in T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” and “Pretty little Susie is the girl for me” instead of “Boys, don’t you know what she do to me” in Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruitti.”

In one week’s time during April, Chicago radio stations receive 15,000 complaint letters protesting their broadcast of rock music as part of an organized campaign. The letters call for the station to remove controversial songs from their playlists.

Variety runs a three-part series on what they term “leer-ics,” or R&B songs with obscene lyrics, calling for censorship of the recording industry. The articles compare these songs to dirty postcards and chastises the music industry for selling “their leer-ic garbage by declaring that’s what kids want.”

The Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission of Houston, Texas, bans more than 30 songs it considers obscene. The Commission’s list is almost entirely comprised of black artists

Officials cancel rock and roll concerts scheduled in New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut; Boston; Atlanta; Jersey City and Asbury Park, New Jersey; Burbank, California; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Observers mistake dancing at concerts for riots and fighting.

CBS television network cancels Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Dance Party after a camera shows Frankie Lymon (leader of the doo wop group Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers) dancing with a white girl.

Officials in San Diego and Florida police warn Elvis Presley that if he moves at all during his local performances, he will be arrested on obscenity charges.

1956
ABC Radio Network bans Billie Holiday’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” from all of its stations because of its prostitution theme. Stations continue to play instrumental versions of the song.

Also in April, members of the White Citizens Council of Birmingham, Alabama, rush the stage at a Nat King Cole concert and beat the legendary performer. Seeing the reaction of Birmingham’s young teen girls to Nat’s crooning, the council members confuse Cole’s music with newly popular R&B.

The Parks Department in San Antonio, Texas, removes all rock and roll records from jukeboxes located at city swimming pools, terming it “jumpy, hot stuff” that is unsuitable for teens.

Network officials ban the novelty hit “Transfusion” by Dot and Diamond from ABC, CBS, and NBC radios in June. According to one NBC executive, “There is nothing funny about a blood transfusion.”

1957
Producers of the Ed Sullivan Show instruct cameramen to show Elvis Presley only from the waist up on his third and final appearance on the program on January 7th.

Fearing the effects of the “hedonistic, tribal rhythms” of rock and roll music, in March Chicago’s Cardinal Stritch bans popular music from all Catholic-run schools.

Congress considers that legislation requires song lyrics to be screened and altered by a review committee before being broadcast or offered for sale.

1958
The Mutual Broadcasting System drops all rock and roll records from its network music programs, calling it “distorted, monotonous, noisy music.”

1959
Link Wray’s instrumental classic “Rumble” is dropped from radio stations across the country in January – even though it has no lyrics. The title of the song is thought to be suggestive of teenage violence. When Wray appears on American Bandstand to perform the song, Dick Clark introduces Wray and his band, but refuses to mention the song’s title.

Wanting to secure an appearance on the hit television program American Bandstand, singer Lloyd Price agrees to re-cut the lyrics to his song “Stagger Lee,” removing all references to violence.

 

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