How Eddie Van Halen Overcame Racism

Sam Sizemore, Staff Writer

Eddie Van Halen was the lead guitarist and co-founder of the hard rock band Van Halen and was considered by many to be one of the best guitar players of all time.

He was born in 1955 in Amsterdam to an Indonesian mother and a Dutch father who was a musician. His father helped spark Van Halen’s interest in music. While living in Holland, Eddie Van Halen and his family dealt with various levels of racism stemming from his father’s marriage to an Indonesian woman. In addition, both Eddie and his brother were ridiculed for being half Indonesian and often referred to as “half-breeds”. They left their home country because of this treatment and settled in Pasadena, California.

While in elementary school, Eddie Van Halen won first place in a piano competition several years in a row. He also started his first band called The Broken Combs, which fueled his desire of becoming a famous musician. Unfortunately, as he began working on his musical goals, Eddie continued to experience racism at the hands of school bullies. Learning English was hard and this deficit garnered more prejudice against him as an outsider.

“They came to America and did not speak English as a first language in the early 60’s, ” said David Lee Roth, the original singer for Van Halen during an interview, “So that kind of spark, that kind of stuff, that runs deep.”

Van Halen himself has talked about the issue saying, “We already went through that in Holland, you know, first day, first grade. Now, you’re in a whole other country where you can’t speak the language, and you know absolutely nothing about anything and it was beyond frightening.”

“… it made us stronger because we had to be.”

Eddie Van Halen recalled that he related more to the minority children and found allies within the black community. Some of the memories he has are of students tearing up his homework or papers and making him eat playground sand. It was the other minority children that stood up for him, providing support and friendship during a very hard time in his childhood. “I don’t even know how to explain, but I think it made us stronger because we had to be, ” he was once quoted.

Later in life, he co-founded the legendary hard rock band Van Halen with his brother and was launched into superstardom. He was personally ranked No.8 best guitarist of all time in Rolling Stone Magazine. This was likely a result of a tapping technique he invented that created new sounds produced by a guitar. This technique was eventually dubbed “tapping”. He also invented a new style of guitar, which gave him his signature sound by fusing the neck and humbucker pickup from a Gibson guitar onto a Fender Stratocaster body. These techniques, combined with his unique approach to sound, positively changed the way artists wrote music.

Eddie Van Halen saw music as an escape from the bullying and discrimination he experienced as a child. He took those emotions and focused them on his creativity rather than allowing them to become destructive. Even though Eddie had been treated like a lesser person, he rose above, reached his goals, and lived the life he imagined.