Turning on the TV on 1950s Los Angeles, you could have come face-to-face with a young man in a jeweled turban with a dreamy gaze accentuated by dark eye shadow. Korla Pandit played the piano and the organ, usually simultaneously, creating exotic music.
Pandit was born in New Delhi, India, the son of a Brahmin government worker and a French opera singer. He studied music in England and later moved to the US, where he mastered the organ at the University of Chicago. Not once in the 900 performances did he speak on camera, preferring to communicate with viewers with hypnotic gazes.
He became one of the first TV stars, with friends like Errol Flynn, and Bob Hope. Because of a contract dispute he ceded his TV performances to the young pianist, Liberace. And the way Pandt came to fame is a "only-in-America fable" where the audience and the performer are both invested in the illusion.
who was the mysteriously mystic Korla Pandit?
Korla Pandit was really born John Roland Redd on September 16, 1921 in an African-American family from St Louis Missouri. In the 1940’s he played for a few years under the name "Juan Rolando" to some success.
In 1944, he married Disney artist Beryl June DeBeeson, and the two reinvented his image, replacing "Juan Rolando" with "Korla Pandit" and fabricating the romantic history. They had two children.
Pandit died in Petaluma, California of a myocardio infaction. Two years after his death, it was revealed he was John Roland Redd from Missouri.
Those who knew Pandit described him as a gentle soul. He was a musician, composer, pianist, organist and television pioneer and known as the Godfather of Exotica.