Today in history: Musicians targeted in anti-Communist witch-hunt

On June 22, 1950, renowned musicians/performers Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Lena Horne, Pete Seeger and Artie Shaw were labeled as suspected Communist sympathizers in the infamous publication “Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.” In the McCarthy witch-hunt era, being labeled a Communist or “Communist sympathizer” was a career-killer.

“Red Channels” was a tract issued by the right-wing journal Counterattack, the self-described “Newsletter of Facts to Combat Communism.” By 1950, Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had already been at work for several years, and figures like singer Paul Robeson and the so-called Hollywood Ten had already been blacklisted.

The evidence of Communist leanings offered in “Red Channels” included Lena Horne’s appearance on the letterhead of a South African famine relief program, Aaron Copland’s appearance on a panel at a 1949 Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace and Leonard Bernstein’s affiliation with the Committee to Re-Elect Benjamin J. Davis, the African American Communist New York City councilman.

Those who stood up to McCarthyism, risking their careers and livelihoods, were vindicated and honored for their courage. “Red Channels” is no longer around, but the newspaper supported by many of its victims is still alive and kicking: now online here at!

Photo: Lena Horne in the film “Till the Clouds Roll By,” 1946. (Public Domain)