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Arts & Culture

Korla

Korla Pandit portrait.
Courtesy of PBS SoCal
Korla Pandit portrait.

Airs Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

“Korla” tells the story of cultural icon and groundbreaking television personality Korla Pandit.

Timed for release with African American History Month, the story chronicles the journey of master organ and pianist John Roland Redd, an African-American who successfully reinvented himself as a turbaned musician from India. On the live television program he hosted from 1949-1951, John fused compositions from the east and west, creating a new genre of music, now known as exotica.

In 1939, John Roland Redd, an African-American born in St. Louis, Missouri, migrated to Hollywood with the dream of forging a career as a musician. Racial prejudice ran rampant during this era, but John, who was light skinned, was able to find work as a Latin performer in Los Angeles night clubs and lounges under the alias “Juan Rolando.”

A young Korla Pandit playing a piano. (undated photo)
Courtesy of PBS SoCal
A young Korla Pandit playing a piano. (undated photo)

In 1944, John married Beryl DeBeeson, who at the time worked in the Disney effects department, and together, they would create the persona ‘Korla Pandit,’ a talented and mysterious musician from New Delhi, India.

With this transformation, a star was born and history was made as John became the first African American to host a television program, albeit without the audiences’ knowledge. Korla went on to become a recording artist, an actor as well as a lecturer on the “Universal Language of Music.”

Korla Pandit playing the organ. (undated photo)
Courtesy of PBS SoCal
Korla Pandit playing the organ. (undated photo)

The documentary features insights and commentary from music, entertainment, and media tastemakers, including Carlos Santana, renowned Los Angeles Magazine reporter R.J. Smith, and radio personality Pete Fallico.

Over the course of the film, viewers witness the engaging story of how one man mesmerized television, film and concert audiences with his tantalizing music, unforgettable persona, and never-before-seen keyboard theatrics – only to find that Korla’s true identity was a secret he took to his grave in 1998.

Korla Pandit
Courtesy of PBS SoCal
Korla Pandit

“Korla’s success as a performer was deeply rooted in his anonymity and mystique,” said John Turner, director for "Korla." “Viewers were put under a spell by his presence, and I was equally captivated by his personal narrative. It’s been an honor to tell his story – a racial transformation that led him to become a pioneer in television as well as a musical legend who shaped generations of American audiences.”

“It has been thrilling to shed light on the fascinating life of Korla Pandit through this documentary,” said Eric Christensen, co-producer for "Korla." “Not only was Korla beloved by television audiences across the country, but he was deeply rooted in Hollywood society, regularly socializing with film legends like Bob Hope, Errol Flynn, and Sabu Dastagir.”

Korla Trailer

CREDITS:

Directed by John Turner and co-produced by PBS SoCal and Korla LLC. Produced by Eric Christensen and John Turner. Executive Producer is Brenda Brkusic. Associate Producer is Michelle Merker.