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Cole Porter Scores An Interracial Couple's Highs And Lows

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As summer winds down, All Things Considered is winding down its series "Mom and Dad's Record Collection."

For the past few months, the show has asked listeners to tell their stories about a particular piece of music they associate with their parents. Listener Melanie Cowart of San Antonio, Texas, wrote in to explain how Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" — a song that's been interpreted by Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald and many others — became a running soundtrack for her parents' relationship.

"My father was African-American; my mother was white," Cowart tells NPR's Melissa Block. "They met in 1929, at a time when that type of a relationship was not something that was acceptable in society. In fact, in many states, including in Missouri where they met, it was against the law. But they fell in love and formed a very strong bond."

Cowart says her parents loved to hear "Begin the Beguine" when they went out dancing and would always have it playing at their backyard barbecues in the summer. Their social gatherings, however, were often disrupted by racial tension.

"My mom talked about how sometimes, when they were out with their friends and a police car might come up alongside their car, she would have to hide in the backseat and they would all pile their coats on top of her so that she wasn't seen," Cowart says.

Cowart says segregationist sentiment was an ongoing source of pressure in her parents' lives and manifested in one particularly ugly incident.

"[My mother] was arrested one time when she was on her way home from work, coming into the African-American community, and the police wanted to know what she was doing there," she says. "They took her down to the police station and made her sit there, and verbally assaulted her until someone came and got her and took her home."

"Begin the Beguine," Cowart says, is a fitting symbol for her parents' romance, given all they went through to be with one another.

"It may be about lost love, but I think it's also about a love that is meant to stay strong," she says. "It's a song that can carry over to any period of time, but it really reminds you of that period of time when they got together."

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