Fifty-two years ago I was privileged to play in the band for the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the one that nominated John F. Kennedy. At twenty-two years old I was politically naive and only barely aware of what I was witnessing. In the first days of this convention I was more interested and excited to be working with the great and famous players of the Hollywood studios who made up most of the band and were my adolescent heroes. There were, however, an amazing number of Hollywood and political celebrities that were abundant in the behind the scenes podium area where they and the band would relax.
I was also impressed with the refreshments that were served in this backstage area; the memory reminds me more of what I would later encounter in elegant embassy receptions while touring with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The water cooler, for example, dispensed endless quantities of fresh orange juice and I found myself standing in line with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Roosevelt, Adelei Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey and Rose Kennedy. The snacks were absolutely gourmet; Los Angeles (Hollywood) had an exorbitant way of doing things, especially, for the high profile events.
Not fully understanding the political significance of what was taking place around me I was amazed at the seemingly high school behavior of the participants of this convention; it reminded me of what I had experienced not too many years before in my high school’s football games with out-of-control screaming and cheering.
The convention took place in, what then was, the new Los Angeles Convention Center, until the last evening when it changed venues to the Los Angeles Coliseum, where I had played my first professional services with the Los Angeles Ram’s football team’s band and had fond memories of working for the first time with those same well known Hollywood studio musicians. But this time the Coliseum was quite different; the 80,000 seats were full and there was a powerful anticipation of the arrival and acceptance speech of John F. Kennedy.
I have had experiences both before and after that evening of dealing with men of a very high magnitude charisma, mostly great conductors, but I have never before or since encountered charisma like I witnessed that night from John F. Kennedy. He entered in an open convertible, which took one very slow lap around the track and stopped right in front of the bandstand where he got out and took his seat on a platform just behind the band. My tuba seat in the band and Kennedy’s seat on the platform couldn’t have been more than ten feet apart; there was one moment where he looked down at me, smiled and waved. Then came the moving speech where he said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”?
The election in the following November was the first election in which I voted; I’ve never held the same excitement for an election since then, however, I felt it for Barack Obama before the 2008 election, who showed that same very exclusive charismatic power as Kennedy. Kennedy radiated an excitement, freshness and hope and America needs that feeling again; perhaps Obama can offer and sustain it again. We need hope and we need a dream again.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 23, 2008
Revised September 5, 2012, Tokyo