‘The Jazz Ambassadors’

(Above right: Louis Armstrong)

The Jazz Ambassadors, a documentary about how America’s “most famous jazz musicians … became America’s most important cultural ambassadors,” debuts this Friday, May 4, at 10 pm ET on PBS (check your local listings). It will then be available to stream Saturday, May 5, on pbs.org and the PBS app.

In 1955, African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. persuaded President Eisenhower that jazz was one of the most powerful examples of soft power the US could deploy during the Cold War.

For the next decade, jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck, “along with their racially-integrated bands, traveled the globe to perform as cultural ambassadors.”

“But the unrest back home forced them to face a painful moral dilemma: how could they promote the image of a tolerant America abroad when the country still practiced Jim Crow segregation and racial equality remained an unrealized dream?”

Leslie Odom, Jr., narrates this documentary, which features archival film footage, photos and radio clips, along with new interviews with Quincy Jones, Adam Clayton Powell III, and others.

For more information, visit pbs.org.

About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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