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How Duke Ellington crashed the Iron Curtain

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In the early 1960s, my family was in Cuba.  We would often hear the news from the Spanish and English editions of The Voice of America.  I don’t think most Americans ever understood just how significant the VOA was.  It was the only source of clean news in Spanish or English.  For example, my parents listened to President Kennedy’s Missile Crisis speech and later his funeral over the radio.

Duke Ellington was born in 1899 in Washington, D.C.  He became one of the legendary jazz figures of music history.

In the communist world, his version of “Take the A-train” was the closest to a hymn of freedom.

Every night, the opening notes of that wonderful song went over the short wave signals heard in Moscow, in Prague, and down in Cuba.  It was Willis Conover and his jazz show:

For more than 40 years, Willis Conover’s long-running “Jazz Hour” introduced millions of people in Europe and the former Soviet Union to American jazz. 

He produced jazz concerts at the White House, the Newport Jazz Festival, and for movies and television.  He was the voice of jazz around the world. 

Back here, few people knew Conover.  Over the Berlin Wall, beyond the Iron Curtain, and elsewhere, his voice and those jazz tunes brought U.S. music to people hungry for a little freedom.

So we remember Duke Ellington one more time.  He was one of the best.  I cannot help but remember listening to “Take the A-train” and all that jazz in Cuba.  

As my father said many years later, Conover brought down communism all by himself.  Probably not, but he did bring a lot of happiness and Duke Ellington to a lot of people.

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.


Written by scantojr

April 30, 2018 at 6:12 am

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