David Brubeck, the legendary jazz pianist and composer, died last month at the age of 91. Naturally, the hosannas came – Brubeck was the first, extremely guilt-ridden, jazz artist on the cover of Time – but many of them overlooked Brubeck’s lifelong focus on civil rights, as CNN explained in a piece from late December:
He was along on a cattle-buying trip with his father, Pete, a rancher in Northern California. Pete Brubeck asked an African-American cowboy who everyone called “Shine” to come over and greet his son.
Pete Brubeck then asked Shine to open his shirt. Brubeck, then only 6, watched as Shine unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a brand on his chest: He had been marked like cattle. Shine was the first black person Brubeck had ever seen. A furious Pete Brubeck told his son that “something like this never should happen again.”
Brubeck, the pioneering jazz pianist who died this month at 91, did more to help people like Shine than most people realize. The tributes that poured in after his death tended to focus on the same themes: He was the jazz legend whose “Dave Brubeck Quartet” gave the world the jazz standard “Take Five,” he stretched the boundaries of jazz and was a champion for civil rights.