Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music

Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music

by Philip Hayward (Editor)


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During the 1950s and early 1960s, the musical exotica produced by performers such as Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman enjoyed international success. Widening the Horizon is the first in-depth analysis of the music and its cultural context.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781864620474
Publisher: John Libbey Publishing
Publication date: 09/22/1999
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 954,117
Product dimensions: 6.75(w) x 9.46(h) x 0.49(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Philip Hayward, head of the Department of Media, Communication and Music Studies at Macquarie University (Sydney), is editor of the Perfect Beat: The Pacific Journal of Research into Contemporary Music and Popular Culture, and of several books including Music at the Borders and From Pop to Punk to Postmodernism.

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Widening the Horizon

Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music

By Philip Hayward

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1999 John Libbey Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-86196-933-3



Music, Exoticism and Mysticism


In 1947, Klaus Landsberg, a German emigré, begin a stint as the head of station KTLA in Los Angeles. In this period there was no network support that far west, so Landsberg had to rely on his own ingenuity in devising programming for this new station. His partiality for "bright, ethnic music" (quoted by Stan Chambers, one-time KTLA employee, in Kisseloff, 1995: 174) resulted in, amongst other things, an off-beat program called Musical Adventure with Korla Pandit, which was broadcast three times per week from 1949 to 1951. Pandit was the son of an Indian Brahman, "a member of one of India's first families", he has stated, and his mother was a French singer (1966: np). He played every one of his programs wearing a turban bejewelled with a ruby, and never spoke. In this chapter I want to try to situate Pandit in the cultural moment of his greatest popularity, the late 1940s-early 1950s, focusing on a few key issues: the kinds of representations of India and Indians, both visual and musical, offered in his TV show; representations by and of Pandit; and the ways that Pandit slipped in and out of these representations, finally becoming a New Age guru/musician.

The 1950s, suburbia, nostalgia, and difference

Several national trends occurred in the same historical moment as Pandit's popularity; the most important of these was the growth of suburbs after World War II; this has been widely discussed and so my own discussion will be fairly brief, and concentrate on the ways that suburbanisation as a cultural phenomenon relates to Pandit. In areas such as Orange County, California (where Pandit first lived when he moved to California in 1949), the movement out of the cities into suburbs in the 1950s resulted in a near doubling in population between 1940 and 1950, rising from 130,760 to 216,224 (Jezer, 1982: 188). Nationally, as a result of the GI Bill of Rights, passed in 1944, and the tax benefits to home owners that were increased during the 1940s, housing starts rose from 114,000 in 1944 to 937,000 in 1946, 1,118,000 in 1948, to an all-time high of 1,692,000 in 1950 (Halberstam, 1993: 134). Even before this, in 1946, "for the first time a majority of the nation's families lived in homes they owned" (May, 1988: 170). The housing industry contributed to this growth with millions of 'cookie-cutter' homes, made to look the same no matter in which part of the country they were intended to be built. "Even flora varied little from place to place", writes Marty Jezer, with the ubiquitous Colorado blue spruce becoming the conifer of choice (Jezer, 1982: 191).

During the 1940s, suburbs became centres of the erasure of racial and ethnic difference. Until the early 1960s they were occupied almost wholly by whites. Some residents of the whitewashed suburbs suffered a kind of nostalgia for the web of family and other social connections in the cities, as well as, seemingly contradictorily, nostalgia for the kind of ethnic diversity that cities provide. Before the early 1950s, radio and television programs had often featured a variety of ethnic groups. But by the mid-1950s television and radio had moved toward a Father Knows Best model, in which people were white, mom stayed at home, kids were obedient, and dad was an organisation man who "had no politics, no opinions, and no connection with the world about him" (Jezer, 1982: 198).

These radio and then television programs (many of which made the transition from one medium to the other) mirrored the lives of their listeners (so Mama's family in I Remember Mama moves to the suburbs, as did Lucy and Ricky in I Love Lucy). Even having moved, though, many of these characters were still caught up in the network of family and social relations that was damaged when people moved out of the cities. Many early television programs featured a wide variety of ethnic and/or age groups, and were generally diverse. Horace Newcomb describes an episode of The Texaco Star Theater (which later become The Milton Berle Show) from 2/4/51 that features a sketch in which a singer performs a number called Tenement City that lasts ten minutes, and includes the characters "Mrs. Cohen", who makes a wonderful Irish stew, and "Mrs. Kelly", who makes the best gefilte fish; these and other characters later listen appreciatively as a young black man sings Somewhere over the Rainbow (Newcomb, 1997: 114).

Representations of race and ethnicity found their way into suburban homes in other ways. Mark Burns and Louis DiBonis, serious collectors of 1950s objects, have written of the kinds and nature of all manner of 1950s household items, arguing that "[d]epiction of other races – generally with contented, nubile or exotic, but not threatening, overtones – was a general common feature of the ornament" (1988: 42). They also observe that:

Chinamen and Mexicans were represented as childlike, innocent, fun loving – and lazy. White folk were serious adults, brown and yellow people were engaging, the Korean war notwithstanding. These objects were born out of ignorance, reinforced by TV and the developing tourist trade and its propaganda. (Burns and DiBonis, 1988: 20).

At the same time, veterans who had returned from World War II, after having served in the South Pacific, continued their interest in Hawaiian and other Pacific cultures and their musics. It was in this historical moment that the fad for things Hawaiian was born, a fad so potent that most popular musicians learned some of this music, although the national popularity of lounge and exotica musics – discussed at length in this volume – occurs after its heyday.


Even though various 'exotic' peoples and cultures made their way into mainstream North American representations, most North Americans in the 1950s knew little of India, which, when represented at all, seemed to provide a little dash of colour or exoticism. In 1952, House & Garden advertised a new living room decor, designed by Lord & Taylor, whose centrepiece was colourful fabrics that "bring you the magnificent patterns and colors of India under the name of 'Indra', the Hindu deity who rules the bright firmament" (House & Garden, 1952: 141). The drawing of this living room was captioned "Hot colors of the sleepy sun in a modern living room." This ad was accompanied by a story by Rumer Godden entitled 'Diwali Lights', about the festival marking the Hindu New Year; Godden would have fairly been well known to her readers as a British novelist who authored many books of fiction and non-fiction that were set in India.

But most U.S. citizens knew little of India, due mainly to restrictive immigration laws. While Congress declared South Asians eligible for citizenship in 1910, in 1917 it enacted a law barring them and other Asians from becoming citizens. This changed in 1926 when an Indian lawyer successfully argued that South Asians should be considered Aryans (that is, white) and be accorded citizenship. In 1946, Congress enacted a law allowing South Asians citizenship, but the annual quota was only one hundred people. Between the years 1923, when official immigration by South Asians ceased, and 1946, when it began again, only a few hundred South Asians came legally to the U.S.A.; most of these were students. There were also around three thousand illegals (Gibson, 1988: 41). According to Joan Jensen, "in 1942, only forty percent of Americans could locate India on a map" (1988: 278). A poll taken in Iowa in 1945 revealed that, while the majority of those asked had a rough idea of how many people lived in India and had heard of Gandhi, most hadn't heard of Pakistan (Chandrasekhar, 1945). Even though there were some 250,000 American soldiers stationed in India during World War Two, most brought home no more knowledge than "a tale of a sordid, illiterate, depressed country" (Kiell, 1946: 204).

In addition to the acquisition of colour for living rooms, North America's conceptions of India and Indians in the 1950s tended to be concerned with a clash of the mystical with the 'real' or scientific. For example, a 1949 photograph of an Indian landscape in House & Garden is introduced with the statement, "India, vast, imponderable and infinitely diverse, is a country where mysticism co-exists with science, where shimmering saris sing against the ash-gray hides of elephants and a whole city is colored pink". Likewise, the opening to the film of Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1950) begins with an 'Indian' narrator (played by an uncredited actor, almost certainly not South Asian as none of the named actors in this production were) stating:

India. Gateway to the East. Empire of magnificent pageantry and exotic colour – the jewel of the Orient. Land of mysticism and reality, whose history is filled with the romance and intrigue of the nineteenth century, which already belongs to a legendary past.

Another example comes from the New Yorker, in which a doctor, Victor Barnouw, address these issues head-on. Barnouw is working with an U.S.-trained Brahman doctor, Narayan Ghodme, in a lab in India:

Sometimes, when he and I sat drinking tea in the lab, I tried to find out what his own religious views were. Once I asked him if he believed in reincarnation. For answer, he waved a thin brown hand toward the lab equipment and said, "I believe in."

"The plethysmograph?"

"No. Science."

I liked to badger him. "But at home you take part in the family rituals," I said.

"Of course." Narayan shrugged. "Family is one thing, science another."

"But by taking part you give assent, don't you? Let's face it, Narayan – do you want people to go on worshipping elephant-headed gods?" Narayan raised his eyebrows. "What's wrong with elephant-headed gods?"

I couldn't think of any sensible answer, so I dropped this line of argument.

(Barnouw, 1956: 69)

Things go downhill from there when it comes time to worship tools. Barnouw is shocked that so much time and energy are spent offering puja to the automobile, and then the tools in the laboratory, that he once again accosts his friend. Ghodme again insists that he participates willingly in religious rituals in order to preserve family harmony, but the two men clearly diverge: Barnouw cannot conceive of what he views as a premodern religion coexisting with modern science.


North Americans seem to have been interested in India's so-called mysticism in this period. Perceptions of the mystical Indian were fuelled in 1942 with the publication of The Wisdom of China and India, compiled and edited by the well-known public authority on eastern religions Lin Yutang. He writes in the introduction that:

[n]ot until we see the richness of the Hindu mind and its essential spirituality can we understand India or hope to share with it the freedom and equality of peoples which we in some lame and halting fashion are trying to create out of this morally and politically chaotic world. (Lin, 1942: 3)

His introductory chapter to Indian writings is entitled 'Indian Piety', and begins:

India is a land and a people intoxicated with God. This is the impression of anyone who reads through the Hymns from the Rigveda, and follows through the Upanishads to the arrival of Buddha in 563 B.C. The Hindu preoccupation with questions of the world soul and the individual soul is so intense that at times it must seem oppressive to a less spiritual people. I doubt there is a nation on earth that equals the Hindus in religious emotional intensity except the Jews. (Lin, 1942: 11)

North Americans' conceptions of India as spiritual were also fortified by the publication of Autobiography of a Yogi in 1946 by Paramhansa Yogananda (1893–1952), who had emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1920 and eventually settled in southern California, where he established a centre in Encinitas (on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego) in 1937. Yogananda and his book, which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into nineteen languages, were widely reported in the popular press, including Time and Newsweek, and both publications didn't quite know what to make of it. The anonymous reviewer for Newsweek was the most sanguine in his/her description, writing that "it is a fascinating and clearly annotated study of a religious way of life, ingenuously described in the lush style of the Orient" (unattributed, 1947a: 76). But Time's anonymous reviewer could hardly contain him-/herself. Entitling the review 'Here comes the Yogiman', this person wrote the entire review in a ridiculing tone:

"Sometimes – usually when the bills rolled in," muses Anchorite Yogananda (who is now a rather stout, smiling gentleman), "I thought longingly of the simple peace of India." But he looks forward with unruffled demeanour to the "enigmatic Atomic Age." Yogananda is thought by other swamis to be too successful, but, seated before the sweet-toned organ of his San Diego church, he himself believes that in California he has effected not merely a meeting between East and West, but also an "Eternal Anchorage." (unattributed, 1947b: 112)


Other glimpses into American attitudes toward India during this period can be had from some of the 'History of World Civilizations' textbooks used at the time. Many of these consider India only with regard to the British Empire, but some take it seriously as a place and complex of cultures in its own right. Most offer fairly straightforward histories, but when the discussions turn to religion their biases show pretty strongly. Some authors emphasise the "otherworldly" aspects of Hinduism in particular and India in general, which prevented people from becoming citizens as in the West, ie productive members of a society and polity. One author wrote in a book published in 1941:

... such a feeling [of "a profound world weariness"] moved men to pursue as the ideal a life of inaction. By accepting misery as the basis for the quest for spiritual release, Indian culture became anchored in social conservatism. If, on the one hand, the problem set by the disintegration of primitive custom under the influence of urban culture was solved socially by a rigidity – caste – justified in religious terms, on the other hand, it was solved emotionally and intellectually by a compensation for rigidity – for such indeed was the release set as the goal of life by Indian religious teachers and philosophers. To seek release by meditation did not disturb the social order; to enjoy its achievement by loss of identity was to conform to the basic social principle of Indian culture, namely, the individual standing alone in nothing. (Turner, 1941: 404) [emphasis in original]

The final portion in this quotation – concerning Indians as individuals all alone – is rather ironic from this author writing from the vantage point of a bourgeois capitalist culture. For this writer, Hinduism stultifies.

For other authors, Hinduism prevented India from modernising (in a western manner), as in this excerpt from Civilization Past and Present, published in 1954:

It has been natural for the Hindu to regard our physical world and its pains and limitations as evils from which to escape – a view certainly strengthened by the unhappy political and economic features of so much of India's history. Again, because the Hindus believe in the social and religious necessity of a caste system, their unique theory of society has endured for three thousand years and has kept India's social life fixed ...

(Wallbank and Taylor, 1954: 321)

Perhaps the most revealing discussion comes from A History of Civilization (1955), in which the authors focus on their perception of Hinduism as "other-worldly". Their longest consideration of India occurs in the first volume of the two-volume text and concludes thus:

The religious thought of India has left a residue of greater other-worldliness, of greater emphasis on a mystical subduing of the flesh, on a revulsion from struggle for wealth, satisfaction of the common human appetites, worldly place and power, than has Christianity or Islam. In the practice of Indian life even before the Europeans came to India, there was plenty of violence, plenty of greed, cruelty, and self-indulgence. Except as superstition and tabu and ritual, little of the higher religions of India had seeped down to the masses. To certain types of western minds, indeed, the educated classes of India have seemed to take refuge in other-worldly doctrines as a psychological defense against the worldly superiority of the West and the poverty and superstition of their own masses. But the fact remains that for three hundred years educated Indians have insisted that they feel differently about the universe and man's place in it than do we, that theirs is a higher spirituality. (Brinton, Christopher, and Wolff, 1955: 586)


Excerpted from Widening the Horizon by Philip Hayward. Copyright © 1999 John Libbey Publishing Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents


Editor's Note, vii,
Introduction The Cocktail Shift: Aligning Musical Exotica Philip Hayward, 1,
Chapter 1 Korla Pandit and Musical Indianism Tim Taylor, 19,
Chapter 2 Utopias of the Tropics – The Exotic Music of Les Baxter and Yma Sumac Rebecca Leydon, 45,
Chapter 3 Martin Denny and the Development of Musical Exotica Shuhei Hosokawa, 72,
Chapter 4 Tropical Cool: The Arthur Lyman Sound Jon Fitzgerald and Philip Hayward, 94,
Chapter 5 Soy Sauce Music: Haruomi Hosono and Japanese Self-Orientalism Shuhei Hosokawa, 114,
Chapter 6 Musical Transport: Van Dyke Parks, Americana and the applied Orientalism of Tokyo Rose Jon Fitzgerald and Philip Hayward, 145,
Chapter 7 The Yanni Phenomenon Karl Neuenfeldt, 168,
Information About the Authors, 190,
Bibliography, 192,
Index, 199,

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