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Milt Grant - Johnnie and Joe

by Matt Delmont

Only one kinescope of The Milt Grant Show is known to exist, but it features two separate performances by R&B singers Johnnie (Lee Richardson) & Joe (Walker) and LaVern Baker that help explain how the show sought to manage the differences between black performers and white audience members. In each clip, the teenagers dance as the singers lip-sync to recordings of their songs, as was the common practice in this era. The cameras shift between a medium shot of the artists and a wide shot of couples dancing, before using a picture-in-picture production technique that presented the shot of the artists in a box overlaying the shot of the teenagers dancing (a performance later in the show by white singer Jeri Renay did not use this technique). The resulting image nicely illustrates the tensions surrounding televising black music to white audiences. Broadcasting black musical performers on television was more challenging than radio, because television made the performers bodies visible, and on dance shows like these, put their bodies in close proximity to those of dozens of teenagers. Alan Freed’s Big Beat television show, for example, was cancelled in August 1957 after affiliated stations complained about black teenager singer Frankie Lymon dancing with a white teenage girl, and an American Bandstand producer told the New York Post in 1958 that this incident contributed to American Bandstand’s segregation. The Milt Grant Show clips from May 1957 predate the Freed-Lymon controversy, but the show faced similar concerns. Grant needed to be able to feature black performers in a way that was safe for the consuming pleasure of the white studio and television audiences and the sponsors that were eager to reach them. The picture-in-picture technique demarcated the racial boundary between performers and audiences and offered one strategy for televising black musicians while maintaining racial segregation.

Milt Grant - Johnnie and Joe

Johnnie and Joe perform on The Milt Grant Show, 1957

from The Milt Grant Show (1957)
Creator: WTTG
Posted by Matt Delmont