Inspirational icon more than just a singer
Fi fi fo fum, there’s no horis in that scrum.
That’s what Sir Howard Morrison sang about 50 years ago in his song My Old Man’s An All Black. It was a protest song against the exclusion of Maori from the All Blacks team.
The New Zealand Rugby Union, to its eternal shame, had succumbed to South Africa’s apartheid regime when it agreed to exclude Maori players in the three All Blacks tours to South Africa in 1928, 1949 and 1960.
The Howard Morrison Quartet’s brilliant response had Kiwis all around the country singing along.
It was so tuneful that many were unaware that they were actually challenging their beloved All Blacks.
It was typical of the great man’s career. Always the consummate entertainer, Howard was perhaps the greatest in this country’s history.
He constantly looked for ways and opportunities to uplift and inspire his people whether it was through music or his community work. Mu- sic, though, was his best medium and he was the first Maori artist to successfully break into mainstream radio and TV. This was no small feat in the 1950s and 1960s – a time when Maori were not only racially barred from the All Blacks but were fighting for equal status in all areas of New Zealand society.
Confronting Maori and Pakeha audiences about race relations was difficult and at times almost impossible.
While he was loved and lauded by most of the nation, some sections, particularly the Maori activists of the late 1960s and 70s, regarded him as a sellout and felt he had negatively stereotyped Maori for far too long.
This was a view I never agreed with. Howard had to make sacrifices as a performer or he’d have lost the huge influence he had over his audience. He successfully found a way into the hearts and minds of New Zealanders by combining his singing talent with humour and flawless artistry. Pakeha loved him but would not have if he had come out with pro-Maori songs like many of today’s artists.
In his senior years, he was more political and openly pro-Maori. He told me several times that some of his Pakeha audience resented the fact that he spoke out too much on Maori things and preferred him to concentrate on singing.
Howard became a passionate advocate for his people of Te Arawa and their treaty rights. But that didn’t seem to affect his record or DVD sales. In the weeks before he died, he sensationally knocked Michael Jackson off the country’s top-selling DVD list.
His record as an entertainer will be remembered as legendary. Equally important was his contribution to race relations between Maori and Pakeha.
No reira e te rangatira, haere, haere oti atu ra.