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.