Willis Conover: The Voice of American Music Behind the Iron Curtain

SKF NOTE: Thank you, Doug Ramsey, for this wonderful piece on a true missionary of American music.

The Radio Broadcaster Who Fought the Cold War Abroad but Remained Unheard at Home
Willis Conover spread American culture and values across Europe and the U.S.S.R. with his radio program, but almost no one in the U.S. knew about his show.
By DOUG RAMSEY — July 21, 2015 5:09 p.m. ET

Willis Conover and Sarah Vaughan

Willis Conover and Sarah Vaughan

During the Cold War, listeners in captive nations behind the Iron Curtain huddled around radios in basements and attics listening to the imposing bass-baritone voice of the man who sent them American music.

For 40 years, until shortly before his death in 1996, Conover’s shortwave broadcasts on the Voice of America constituted one of his country’s most effective instruments of cultural diplomacy. With knowledge, taste, dignity and no tinge of politics, he introduced his listeners to jazz and American popular music.

Countless musicians from former Iron Curtain countries have credited Conover with attracting them to jazz….

In its Dec. 9, 1966, issue, Time magazine quoted Conover on the importance of the music he championed. “Jazz tells more about America than any American can realize. It bespeaks vitality, strength, social mobility; it’s a free music with its own discipline, but not an imposed, inhibiting discipline.”

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