“Danny was a really big music-head,” says radio host, producer/engineer, and musician Todd Mack, who was a close pal of the late journalist and launched FODfest—FOD being an acronym for Friends of Danny—in 2004. FODfest is a concert tour that takes place every October as part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days, a global event organized by the larger Daniel Pearl Foundation. “[Pearl] was an incredible musician, a classically trained violinist who loved Bach and all the masters. But he was also totally crazy about bluegrass, loved Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Mark O’Connor. And he was a huge fan of timeless rock stuff like Springsteen, Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones. Bob Marley, Willie Dixon. All kinds of stuff.”
Pearl was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1963 to a Palestinian-born Israeli father and an Iraqi Jewish mother and grew up in LA’s Encino area. From 1981 to 1985 he majored in communications at Stanford University, co-founding a student newspaper, earning a bachelor’s degree, and graduating with honors. He briefly interned as a Pulliam Fellow at the Indianapolis Star, took an eye-opening trip to Europe, China, and the Soviet Union, and relocated to the Berkshires, where he worked for the North Adams Transcript and the Berkshire Eagle. Next came a position at the San Francisco Business Times, and eventually a coveted post with the Wall Street Journal’s Atlanta bureau in 1990. But no matter where his occupation took him, Pearl’s violin came along, too. Whenever the young reporter-musician had free time in a new location, be it in the US, Europe, or the Middle East, he would almost immediately seek out the local jam sessions and sit in.
“I actually met in Danny in Atlanta in 1991, when I was going to school there,” recalls Mack from the control room of his Off the Beat-n-Track Recording Studio in Sheffield, Massachusetts, where he records independent artists and his weekly syndicated “Off the Beat-n-Track Radio Show” (heard locally on WKZE 98.1 FM). “I’d put an ad in the [Atlanta] entertainment paper for a violin player and he answered it. He showed up to jam and right away we just totally clicked, both musically and personally. It was wild, we loved a lot of the same music and got to be great friends really quickly. Danny could play anything he put his hands on; besides violin, he played bass and piano. And he picked up mandolin right away, no problem. I think he loved that instrument mostly because he could fit it in his suitcase really easily.”
After three years of rollicking Southern jam sessions, the two friends went their separate ways, Mack to Western Massachusetts and Pearl to the Wall Street Journal’s Washington, DC, bureau to cover telecommunications. In 1996, Pearl transferred to the Journal’s London office, along the way penning acclaimed stories that included a piece on a Stradivarius violin that was found on a highway on-ramp and another on Iranian pop music. Pearl’s most prestigious articles, however, were his exposes on the Balkan ethnic wars, in which he uncovered that the charges of an alleged genocide in Kosovo were unsubstantiated, and on the American missile attack on a supposed military site in Khartoum, which he proved to be a pharmaceutical factory.
Pearl was in Karachi working on a story about would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid when he was abducted by a militant group called the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. “I really think Danny took that assignment as way to get around covering the lead-up to the US invading Iraq,” says Mack. “I know he was disgusted with how the press was totally caving in to and not challenging the [Bush] administration.” Pearl’s kidnappers claimed he was a CIA agent and threatened to kill him unless their demands, which included the release of all Pakistani terror detainees, the end of US presence in the region, and the halting of a shipment of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan, were immediately met; the group distributed photos and videos of Pearl in captivity via the Internet. But after 10 tortuous, gut-wrenching days that captivated the world, the journalist was eventually murdered by his captors. Pearl’s killers were later caught, and the ringleader has been convicted and sentenced to death for the murder (no date has been set for his execution and his lawyers have filed an appeal, maintaining that one of the other participants is the actual killer).