Discover how the Cold War and Civil Rights movement collided when America asked Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman to travel as cultural ambassadors and combat racially-charged Soviet propaganda through their music.
In summer 1963, Duke Ellington headed to the Middle East and India on his first Jazz Ambassador tour. In a rare Swedish Television interview, he discusses the plight of African Americans, their contributions to society, and jazz music as “the American music.”
Willis Conover’s popular Voice of America radio show gave American jazz a worldwide stage, and Louis Armstrong, its brightest star, was ready for the spotlight. A front-page story in The New York Times claimed America’s best Cold War weapon was “a blue note in a minor key,” and that Armstrong was its best ambassador.
In 1955, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. convinced U.S. leaders that jazz was the best way to intervene in the Cold War cultural conflict, with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie becoming the first jazz ambassador to help counter Soviet stories about American racism.
The United States Information Agency (USIA) uses Voice of America radio to combat Soviet propaganda in films and news media about America’s struggles with racial discrimination and segregation.