Monday, April 30, 2012

International Jazz Day

Today is International Jazz Day. UNESCO created this event "to raise awareness in the international community of the virtues of jazz as an educational tool, and a force for peace, unity, dialogue and enhanced cooperation among people." Don't feel bad if you don't remember celebrating it in years past: April 30, 2012, is the very first.

What aspect of jazz and the law should I feature in our post for this first International Jazz Day? There's jazz and copyright (see, e.g., Note, Jazz Has Got Copyright Law and That Ain't Good, 118 Harv. L. Rev. 1940 (2005), HeinOnline) or jazz and land use regulation (see Paul Chevigny, Gigs: Jazz and the Cabaret Laws in New York City (1991), catalog record).

For now, let's look at one instance of jazz, civil rights, and aviation law.

In July 1954, Ella Fitzgerald was traveling with John Lewis (her pianist) and Georgiana Henry (her secretary) from San Francisco to Sydney, with a stop for refueling in Honolulu, where they would be joined by Norman Granz, Fitzgerald's manager.* After the stop in Hawaii, though, Pan American staff would not let Fitzgerald, Lewis, and Henry reboard the aircraft. They weren't even allowed to go back on to retrieve the personal items they'd left at their seats. They were stranded for three days and missed some Australian concert dates.

They sued, alleging that they had been subjected to this humiliation because they were Negroes. Pan Am denied discrimination. Pan Am also tried to get the case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, but the Second Circuit held that the Civil Aviation Act created a cause of action "arising under" federal law. Fitzgerald v. Pan Am. World Airways, 229 F.2d 499 (2d Cir. 1956). The parties later settled. Thanks to the National Archives, which has the court records, you can read the complaint, a typescript of the Second Circuit decision, and the Satisfaction of Judgment (this is only for $76, but the Chicago Defender reported that the full settlement was $7,000). The Chicago Defender is among the e-newspapers available from the UW Libraries.

Ella Fitzgerald is among the artists on PAN AM: Music From And Inspired By The Original Series (From the Pan Am Soundtrack). (The television show is set in 1963, almost a decade after the incident.)

See also Kate Kelly, Airline Passengers Needed Their Own Rosa Parks, Huffington Post, Nov. 17, 2009. This post discusses other incidents of Jim Crow flying, including Jackie Robinson's difficulties getting to spring training in Florida.


On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella's manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they traveled to the Deep South.
Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman's principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella's dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone.
"They took us down," Ella later recalled, "and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph."

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