The Jazz Ambassadors
The Cold War and Civil Rights Movement collide in this remarkable story of music, diplomacy, and race. Beginning in 1955, when America asked its greatest jazz artists to travel the world as cultural ambassadors, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck and their racially diverse band members faced a painful dilemma: How could they represent a country that still practiced segregation?
To learn more, visit The Jazz Ambassadors website.
A special thanks to Dr. Alicia Gibson for writing background essays for the collection.
Learn about the role of jazz musicians during the Cold War in this media gallery from The Jazz Ambassadors. 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 and could help counter Soviet stories about American racism. Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Dave Brubeck took on the role of “jazz ambassadors,” representing America throughout Europe, Africa, and the Soviet Union. A front-page story in The New York Times claimed America’s best Cold War weapon was “a blue note in a minor key,” but jazz musicians also faced the challenge of how to respond to questions about their country’s racist policies. Many of the musicians freely travelled abroad, but faced segregation and inequality at home.
Engage students with an informational text about jazz in the 1950s that includes a brief history of the music genre and its place in the American cultural landscape, as well as an overview of the challenges faced by African-American musicians. Key vocabulary definitions are provided in the teaching tips section.
Learn about the challenges faced by the United States during the Cold War in this video from The Jazz Ambassadors. After WWII, the United States and the Soviet Union competed for global political, economic, and military dominance. With the build-up of nuclear arsenals and the widespread use of propaganda, the United States and the Soviet Union clashed in a war based on ideology and perception, during a time when the United States faced unrest at home with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.
Engage students with an informational text about the Cold War that includes a brief history of the Soviet Union and an overview of the Truman Doctrine. Key vocabulary definitions are provided in the teaching tips section.
Learn about the role of propaganda in influencing global opinion during the Cold War in this video from The Jazz Ambassadors. The American government created the United States Information Agency (USIA) to combat Soviet propaganda in films and news media. The Soviet Union challenged America's self-proclaimed "Leader of the Free World" status by highlighting anti-black racism in the United States through various forms of media. Engage students with a background essay and through analyzing the Soviet propaganda film, “Black and White,” and various examples of print media used by the United States to prepare families for nuclear war.
Learn about the role of Louis Armstrong in the national debate surrounding the story of the Little Rock Nine, a critical moment in the Civil Rights Movement, in this video from The Jazz Ambassadors. The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine black students who enrolled at a formerly all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in September 1957. Armstrong, a beloved American jazz musician, famously criticized the government for their lack of action in response to the horrendous treatment of the nine students by those protesting school integration. The support materials for this resource include discussion questions, an informational text, and teaching tips to further engage students.