Meet the man who “heard no color line in the music” in Guinness’ high-energy look at the 1930s New York jazz scene. Photo by: GuinnessEurope / YouTube
Guinness revealed another instant classic today with their latest 'Made of More' advert featuring the story of John Hammond – the man responsible for discovering musical legends Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Aretha Franklin and many others and who also attempted to break down the barriers of racial prejudice in the 1930s music industry.
Entitled the “Intolerant Champion,” the advert sets the scene in 1930s New York where racial disharmony prevailed. Black and white musicians rarely played together and many music venues permitted white audiences only.
However, fostering a passion for music of black origin – Jazz, The Blues, Big Band and Gospel – Hammond would travel the clubs and bars of Harlem seeking raw, undiscovered musical talent for his radio show.
Hammond, who was born in Manhattan in 1910, was first introduced to jazz music when he was 13 and with his family on vacation in London.
He dropped out of Yale in 1931, where he was studying the violin and viola, and became a radio DJ for WEVD. He left that in protest two years later when the station moved to a new building where new rules prevented black musicians from using the elevator. Read more: See if you can hold the tears back—the greatest Guinness ad ever!
It was at that time he joined Columbia as as a talent scout and record producer. He heard Billie Holiday for the first time at Monette Moore’s Jazz Club in Harlem the same year, and immediately arranged her first recording session.
The song featured in the video, a remix of “Sing Sing Sing” from the "Swings Kids" movie score by James Horner, is also extremely significant. It was originally made famous by the Benny Goodman Trio – the first major mixed race band in America. Hammond was instrumental in bringing the band members together.
On January 16, 1938, he organized a concert in Carnegie Hall for the trio, the first time a racially integrated musical group appeared on stage at a major American music hall.
“I heard no color line in the music…” Hammond reflected in his memoirs, often referring to himself as the “sometimes intolerant champion of tolerance,” while others simply saw him as “the world’s greatest talent scout.”
Although he also signed legends like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to Columbia Records, it is for his efforts in championing the potential of black and white musicians working together – and fighting this cause – for which he is most famous.
Voiced by the US actor Danny Glover and shot completely in black and white, the advert also features singer Lianne La Havas, who has referenced Hammond artists such as Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan as influences on her music.
“It’s fair to say that John Hammond is an unsung hero and his lasting legacy on the world of music is a story that has been largely untold,” said the video’s director, Jake Nava.
“It is wonderful to have the opportunity to tell an aspect of it in a way that I believe authentically captures the significance of what he achieved.” Read more: Top ten facts about Guinness.
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