Sachmo, public diplomat

From Joe Nocera’s “Louis Armstrong, the Real Ambassador” NYT MAY 1, 2015

Starting in the mid-1950s, the State Department began sending jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and Armstrong on tours abroad as good-will ambassadors. … The East Berlin concert took place just weeks after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. In 1957, Armstrong had been one of the few black stars to speak out when Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas called out the National Guard to block black students from attending Little Rock Central High School. Eight years later, Armstrong spoke out again. Asked for his reaction to the attack on the Selma marchers, he replied that he became “physically ill” watching it on television, and that if he had been marching the police would have “beat me on the mouth.” Then he added, “They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched.”

The East German reporters, hoping to get a similar reaction, peppered him with questions about race relations upon his arrival. But he wouldn’t go there. Although his Iron Curtain tour was not State Department sponsored, one gets the sense that he didn’t want to bad-mouth America while in a communist country, that to do so in the middle of the Cold War would be disloyal somehow. [link]


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