Louis Armstrong: The Goodwill Jazz Ambassador

louis-armstrong-12When the Cold War sent the USA and Russia on a whirlwind mission to outdo each other in technological and racial advancements, the Central Intelligence Agency founded the Congress of Cultural Freedom (CCF). This congress spearheaded the promotion of American culture by publishing literary journals, sponsoring modernist musical performances, and hosting modern art exhibits.

Part of its strategy was to send jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington throughout Europe, Africa, and Latin America. One of the biggest icons of jazz during that time was Louis Armstrong, also known as Satchmo or Pops. Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, the official name of the jazz band he was part of, toured all over the world to promote how awesome jazz is.

His band was so well-received in Europe that he gained the nickname “Ambassador Satch”. Perhaps in the modern times of the Internet, thousands of fans would buy his tickets at this original site of ticket distribution. The Berlin wall was not able to stop his popularity; soldiers and civilians in and out of the wall absolutely loved him. The legend himself related how West Berlin fans “slipped over the Iron Curtain” to hear him live.

That was in 1955. Ten years after, in 1965, they went to East Berlin to play the tunes How High the Moon, Hello, Dolly and Mack the Knife. They also went to Budapest and dazzled the crowd with their tunes, inspiring an annual Louis Armstrong Festival and the Satchmo Jazz Café.

He made quite a noise in the political arena, too. He was known for his opposition to racial discrimination and other forms of inequality. He once cancelled a tour to the Soviet Union in protest to the use of the National Guard troops to hinder the integration of blacks and whites at Central High School in Little Rock.

While he went around the world as a representative of the American government, it seemed that the government wasn’t doing the Black race any favor. While promoting democracy to the rest of the world, Armstrong’s race didn’t experience freedom in their own homeland. This perplexing irony inspired Dave Brubeck to write the satirical jazz musical known as The Real Ambassadors.

The jazz ambassador continued to play until his last night, July 6, 1971, when he died of a heart attack in his sleep.

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