Thursday, November 6, 2014

Korla Pandit: Godfather of Exotica Music

I can't truly explain when my love for Korla Pandit began or how it started.  For many years I have heard his music play on my Arthur Lyman Pandora channel and always looked forward to his organ exotic infused suites.  So who is Korla Pandit?  He was actually originally born as John Roland Redd to a baptist pastor and homemaker in Columbia, Missouri in 1921.  His dad was of African-American decent and his mother was of Creole lineage.  He showed a mastery of playing the piano at a young which would eventually shift to the organ and make him a kitschy master of his craft.

He moved to California in the early 1940's and began a career as "Juan Rolando" as this helped him book gigs as Latin tunes were all the rage. With the help of his wife Beryl DeBeeson, who happened to be an artist for Disney, his new persona as a mystic Indian organ playing icon was born in the late 1940's.  The "disguise" was due in part to the race restrictions of his time.

Below is a clip of him playing his exotic organ rendition of "Misirlou" on a live television broadcast in the 1950's.

His rise in popularity was due in part to a ten minute show he hosted on KTLA called "Adventures in Music with Korla Pandit".  He never spoke during the show.  However, he would gaze into the camera and send his audience at home into an exotic filled trance with the influence of his mystical songs.

In the photo below he showcases how he was able to play both the organ and piano at the same time.  Truly a musical feat to admire.

I recently got around to watching Tim Burton's "Ed Woods" (I seriously do not know why it took me this long to finally watch this incredible movie).  I was stunned by the scene which shows someone playing the organ in a Korla Pandit fashion.  Later I read that this was really him doing a cameo and that it ended up being his last movie role before his death in 1998. 

I truly feel that "Ed Woods" is one of Burton's best films to date.  Do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven't already seen it.  Below is a clip of his cameo in the film.

Of course his "Indian" name and delivery were all a facade.  He kept Korla's persona intact even up to his death.

A few months ago I came across an auction on eBay that I couldn't pass up.  Two signed LPs by him for just $10.  I couldn't believe my luck in coming across this auction.  I plan on framing these two treasures soon and displaying my love of this incredible artist.

Till' Next Time,



  1. I can't believe you have never seen Ed Wood before!!!

    1. I know!!!!! Took me way too long to finally see it!

  2. oohhh I don't have anything by him...will have to buy some next time I see those records :)