In the fall of 1945, the world was wearily coming to grips with the cataclysm of a world war, and the darker forces of racism, populism, and militaristic nationalism. That same fall, none other than Frank Sinatra lent his colossal fame and voice to a musical project intended to aid the anti-racist cause. In a ten-minute film, Sinatra sang “The House I Live In” to a group of white street kids after he stops them from beating up a Jewish boy their own age.
“What is America to me?” he sang. His answer was a naïve, small-town version of social equality and tolerance, but the film still packs a potent message. “The house I live in, the faces that I see, all races and religions—that’s America to me. My neighbors white and black, a land of wealth and beauty, with enough for all to share.” The film won a special Academy Award for “tolerance short subject.”
But the studio’s tolerance had its limits. Sinatra was not allowed to sing the line about “neighbors white and black.” The lyricist, Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol) protested, but ultimately failed to get it restored. (It didn’t help that he was both Jewish and a suspected Communist.) In this way, the film represented an America identity—freedom, acceptance, openness, opportunity—that is always celebrated and held up as our ideal, and yet is seemingly always slightly out of reach.
The 2016-17 Hearts and Minds season has taken EYSO students on a journey from ancient stories of exile and refuge through to the complex history of the U.S. national anthem. Our season finale concerts explore how artists like Frank Sinatra—whether they be classical composers or commercial pop singers—participate in the shaping of cultural identity as much as do presidents, dictators, bombs, and political treaties.
We the People
Sunday, May 7, 2017
concerts at 2pm, 4:30pm, and 7:30pm
ECC Arts Center
Prelude – including a world premiere performance of Ethan T. Parcell’s No Evil Star
Sinfonia & Philharmonia Percussion Ensemble
Primo and Youth Symphony Strings
Youth Symphony Percussion Ensemble
Hanson String Quartet
Youth Symphony – including a world premiere performance of Ethan T. Parcell’s Manifest Anyway