Annals of wasted tax money III: I'm with the band

Here’s a short film about the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s State Department tour of Poland in 1958, when Brubeck was a wealthy musician who could afford to pay for his own vacations, but his government thought there might be some value in putting him in front of some Communists anyway. As Cynthia Schneider, a former U.S. ambassador, has written:

During the heyday of cultural diplomacy from about 1950-1975, America’s greatest
actors, musicians, artists, writers, and dancers were sent abroad by the U.S. government. In the
late 1950s more than one hundred acts were sent to 89 countries in four years. The very best jazz musicians were sent on lengthy tours to the Middle East, Africa, South America, Asia, and
Europe. From 1963 up to his death in 1974, Duke Ellington traveled continuously for the State
Department, to the Soviet Union, Africa (three times), South American and Asia (multiple trips).
Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and other black musicians who toured for the State Department
recognized the irony of being sent as “cultural ambassadors” by a country that often denied their civil rights. In the best tradition of cultural diplomacy, they did not mince words, but rather
spoke about the inequalities in America. They also insisted on performing for “the people”, and
not just the elites. When Duke Ellington demanded that the public clamoring outside the concert
hall be allowed in, he introduced American concepts of equality into the Soviet system, into the
lives of Soviet citizens.

This business of tossing tax dollars after travelling artists and other cultural hoitie-toities is widespread. Here‘s (opens a .pdf) a paper that discusses such practices in eight different countries. “In 2001-02, (Australia’s foreign-affairs department) allocated A$61,184,000 for (cultural-dipomacy) programs with a primary focus on Australia’s image promotion,” the author writes. That was with John Howard as prime minister. Communist.

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