January 18, 2017 09:15 ET

PBS SoCal Honors African American History Month With Korla, a Documentary on the Racial Reinvention of Musician John Roland Redd

Documentary Premieres on PBS Stations Nationwide and on the WORLD Channel in February

LOS ANGELES, CA--(Marketwired - January 18, 2017) - PBS SoCal KOCE and Korla LLC present Korla, a documentary about cultural icon and groundbreaking television personality Korla Pandit. Timed for release with African American History Month, the story chronicles the journey of master organ and pianist John Roland Redd, an African-American who successfully reinvented himself as a turbaned musician from India. On the live television program he hosted from 1949-1951, John fused compositions from the east and west, creating a new genre of music, now known as exotica. Korla will air on PBS SoCal Thursday, February 9 at 8 p.m., on PBS stations nationwide (dates and times vary), and will premiere on the WORLD Channel Tuesday, February 21 at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT (check local listings).

In 1939, John Roland Redd, an African-American born in St. Louis, Missouri, migrated to Hollywood with the dream of forging a career as a musician. Racial prejudice ran rampant during this era, but John, who was light skinned, was able to find work as a Latin performer in Los Angeles night clubs and lounges under the alias "Juan Rolando." In 1944, John married Beryl DeBeeson, who at the time worked in the Disney effects department, and together, they would create the persona 'Korla Pandit,' a talented and mysterious musician from New Delhi, India. With this transformation, a star was born and history was made as John became the first African American to host a television program, albeit without the audiences' knowledge. Korla went on to become a recording artist, an actor as well as a lecturer on the "Universal Language of Music."

The documentary features insights and commentary from music, entertainment, and media tastemakers, including Carlos Santana, renowned Los Angeles Magazine reporter R.J. Smith, and radio personality Pete Fallico. Over the course of the film, viewers witness the engaging story of how one man mesmerized television, film and concert audiences with his tantalizing music, unforgettable persona, and never-before-seen keyboard theatrics -- only to find that Korla's true identity was a secret he took to his grave in 1998.

"Korla's success as a performer was deeply rooted in his anonymity and mystique," said John Turner, Director for Korla. "Viewers were put under a spell by his presence, and I was equally captivated by his personal narrative. It's been an honor to tell his story -- a racial transformation that led him to become a pioneer in television as well as a musical legend who shaped generations of American audiences."

"It has been thrilling to shed light on the fascinating life of Korla Pandit through this documentary," said Eric Christensen, Co-producer for Korla. "Not only was Korla beloved by television audiences across the country, but he was deeply rooted in Hollywood society, regularly socializing with film legends like Bob Hope, Errol Flynn, and Sabu Dastagir."

Korla is directed by John Turner and co-produced by PBS SoCal and Korla LLC.

  • Produced by Eric Christensen and John Turner
  • Executive Producer Brenda Brkusic
  • Associate Producer Michelle Merker

For more information about Korla, please visit

About PBS SoCal KOCE

PBS SoCal is the home to PBS for Greater Los Angeles and Southern California. We deliver the full schedule of PBS programs, plus content that is for, about and by the people of Southern California. Our content is available free through three broadcast channels, at, on our mobile apps, and via connected TV services. And we provide the community with early education resources and cultural and educational experiences through partnerships, events and grassroots outreach. PBS SoCal has offices in Century City, Costa Mesa, and Los Angeles. Connect with us at and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

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