Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 30, 2022
President Carter and the Herbie Hancock Institute – thank you for again inviting me to take part in this celebration of International Jazz Day. And thank you to all the artists who have traveled from around the world to play at the United Nations in support of today’s festivities.
Friends, I’m not a jazz musician. I’m a diplomat. But I believe jazz can be essential to the work of diplomacy. Just look to the example of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and others. You know them as legendary jazz musicians. They played and sang and moved our souls. But you might not know that they were also ambassadors.
In the mid-twentieth century, they were part of a State Department program to share jazz with the world. In Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia. A form of “cultural diplomacy” amid the Cold War. In their performances, they shared the creativity, the diversity, and the freedom of jazz. They shared the full spectrum of feelings that this art form – born in my home state of Louisiana – can encompass.
As another jazz ambassador, Dave Brubeck, told to an audience in Eastern Poland, “No dictatorship can tolerate jazz. It is the first sign of a return to freedom.” Those larger-than-life jazz icons are no longer with us. But thanks in part to your efforts – their notes, their improvisations, and their rhythms are heard worldwide. And they sound like freedom to all who hear them.
So, to UNESCO and the Herbie Hancock Institute, thank you. Thank you for bringing us together to celebrate an art form that transcends borders and cultures. And thank you for giving us an occasion to tap our feet and dance!
Now, I’ll pass the mic back so that you can listen to some incredible music.