“Willis Conover and Public Diplomacy: Jazz and Sound Communities in the International System”

Authors: Oliver Hunter*,
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, United States
Keywords: Public Diplomacy, Broadcasting, Political Geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


During the Cold War, the US State Department’s widely successful Jazz Ambassadors initiative sent jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck on diplomatic missions across the Soviet front. As part of the initiative, USIA broadcasts like Willis Conover's Music U.S.A were also distributed to listeners around the globe. This paper explores the impact of Conover’s international ‘sound community’ on the success of the Jazz Ambassadors and US public diplomacy in the 20th century. Using recordings and primary documents from the National Archives and Library of Congress, I show that Conover’s unique ‘sound community’ created a sonic space in the lives of 100+ million people, transcending geographic, cultural and political barriers. I further argue that, through Music U.S.A., Conover created a unique phonetic ‘sound community’ where listeners, particularly in the Soviet Union, learned to speak English with Conover-like mannerisms and accents.

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