From the mid-1950s to the early '70s, the United States sent thousands of musicians around the globe to further American interests. In the program’s heyday, musicians trekked to nearly every continent, playing jazz, classical music, the blues and much more according to Danielle Fosler-Lussier, associate professor in the School of Music, as she details in her recently published book, Music in America’s Cold War Diplomacy (University of California Press, 2015).
“Congress was convinced that the musicians would influence how people around the world thought about America,” she said. “The State Department-funded program turned the musicians into citizen diplomats, reaching out to people through big public concerts, small, intimate gatherings and everything in between.”
As part of her research, Fosler-Lussier created an interactive database detailing the musicians who appeared in countries throughout the world during the Cold War. Users can search geographically or by name to find that, for example, Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz band played in Argentina in the mid-1950s, the Westminster Singers performed in Libya in 1959, the Boston Symphony was in Australia in 1960, Benny Goodman entertained Russian audiences in 1962 and the Julliard String Quartet visited Poland in 1965.
“The United States shared all kinds of music with people in far-off places,” said Fosler-Lussier, “beyond just jazz and classical music. They sent folk musicians, blues acts, symphony orchestras and even puppet shows to various countries. Everything from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Blood, Sweat and Tears to the New York Philharmonic and Holiday on Ice.”
She said the musicians, through personal contact and media publicity, bolstered personal and political relationships on a global scale: “Music is one of the most exciting ways that we as human beings engage with each other - and that matters.” Read more.
Pictured: Bill Crofut and Steve Addiss, American folk singers, with children in Burma (now Myanmar). Photo courtesy of Danielle Fosler-Lussier.