Thursday, 1 December 2011

Red Hot + Blue

For World Aids Day 2011 I'm commemorating the 21st anniversary of one of my favourite albums which has now largely been forgotten here in the UK although its legacy is still alive and well in America.

The Red Hot Organisation formed in New York in 1989 to fight AIDS through popular culture, following the devastating effects the virus had on the city's artistic community.

The big idea was to get the top names in pop music around the world to record songs by Cole Porter for a fundraising album, taking on the name Red Hot + Blue after one of Porter's musicals. Cole Porter was chosen not only for the beauty and popularity of his music but also because his life and the impact of his message still resonated with the society of the late 20th century.

He was a gay man in an age when such things were illegal (spending much of his life in a happy platonic marriage) and he also spent much of his life in pain following a serious horse riding accident. His lyrics didn't shy away from strong social comment (Anything Goes, Love For Sale), the agony and ecstasy of love (Every Time We Say Goodbye, I've Got You Under My Skin) or downright cheekiness (Let's Do It, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) His music combined sophistication, wit and debauchery but did it in a way that appealed to the general public.

Cole Porter and his contemporaries epitomised the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, banishing the Victorian prudishness of their parents' generation and living life to the full after the horrors of World War 1. Likewise the New York art scene of the late 1980s fought to prevent a Victorian-style backlash against the AIDS outbreak which risked the gay community, in particular, losing the steps towards acceptance and equality for which they had fought so hard. The way to stem the tide of AIDS was not to pretend it wasn't happening but to face it head on and talk about some uncomfortable truths.

So in that spirit of defiance, King Cole Inc (later renamed the Red Hot Organisation) was born. 22 world-class acts answered the call to record the album and teamed up with some top film makers to record video clips compiled into a 90 minute TV special aired in America on World Aids Day 1990.

Albums are still being released under the Red Hot banner although their activities are now more confined to the USA. Their 15 albums to date, along with related TV and media work, have raised over $10 million for HIV/AIDS awareness and relief projects around the world. Red Hot + Blue was rereleased as a CD and Region 1 DVD 2-disc set in 2006 (and so unsuitable for most machines outside of North America).

Most of the performances from the TV special are available on YouTube. I've picked out some samples that show the wide range of interpretations these timeless classics inspired and the daring, thought provoking visuals that accompany them.

• For more about the work of the Red Hot Organisation, visit

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