In­spi­ra­tional icon more than just a singer

Central Leader - - News -

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.

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