With Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner’s passing at the ripe old age of 91, Paste takes a look at his influences in music.
James Brown probably had to sing his 1968 hit “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” for a lot of white people over the years. But there’s something especially perplexing about watching him do it in Hugh Hefner’s living room, with blonde bunnies scattered cross-legged around the floor. In 1969, there was nothing strange about it at all. Hefner, the robe-encased Playboy publisher who died Wednesday at the age of 91, was hosting his second TV variety show, Playboy After Dark, in 1969, when Brown visited to perform his black-power anthem and the ballad “If I Ruled the World,” from the musical Pickwick.
Hefner will never transcend his role as the cover-boy for objectifying American women, no matter how kind history is to him, but he was unquestionably a champion of civil rights and gay rights long before the progressive movement took hold and made it cool in the 1960s. His first TV show, Playboy’s Penthouse, ran for two seasons in 1959 and 1960, and showcased a fairly stunning array of Hefner’s jazz favorites including Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., and Nat King Cole. The show was meant to portray a typical party in Hefner’s lavish Chicago home (Playboy was born in Chicago and remained headquartered there even after Hefner moved to Los Angeles), with glasses clinking and guests giggling in the background as the host chatted up his latest visitor. But it was actually a sound stage at a local ABC affiliate.
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