How The US Government Used Jazz Artists During The Cold War

louis armstrong holding a trumpet and smiling
Briona Lamback
April 21, 2022

At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. government had a plan to use Jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong as Cold War weapons – sending them worldwide to spread American “values” through music. 

It was A LOT more sinister than it seemed.

The State Department sent interracial bands abroad to paint a lie of American racial harmony. Meanwhile, Black people were being lynched under Jim Crow and fighting on the front lines for civil rights!

Armstrong and Gillespie went on the tour – but refused to lie!

 Louis Armstrong canceled his trip to the then-Soviet Union, refusing to defend the U.S. constitution abroad since it wasn’t even enforced at home. 

And Dizzy Gillespie rejected a briefing by the government before a performance, saying, “I’ve got 300 years of briefing … I know what they’ve done to us, and I’m not going to make any excuses!”

These “cultural diplomacy” ambassador programs still exist. The U.S. government is STILL trying to save face with performative moves like this – instead of addressing the root issues of systemic racism and working toward solutions.

Like Gillespie and Armstrong, we can never blindly trust that the system works in the best interest of our people. No matter what, we must always speak the truth and be honest about the realities of our experiences!

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