United States Information Agency
United States Information Agency
([Washington, D.C.: The Agency, 1962])
This brochure by the United States Information Agency (USIA) details the USIA’s international public diplomacy efforts, noting that “In distant Southeast Asia, officers provide films, pamphlets and other materials, assisting local communities to modernize and to counter Communist insurgency.” In fact, the presence of this brochure in the Yale University Library system is suggestive of the presence and influence of USIA on college campuses; the Yale Glee Club also toured the U.S.S.R. as part of a similar public diplomacy effort.
Report from Rangoon
to Allan Keller of the
New York World-Telegram
January 3, 1957
This is one of Hal Davis’ press releases to the American media—as expected from the manager of Goodman’s tour, he praises the impact of the tour, claiming that “it seems to have turned the tide in favor of America.” At the same time, he reports that the Communist Chinese and Czech cultural delegations failed to garner as much attention as Goodman’s band. Davis appears to be operating on dual purposes here: to promote his tour, as well as to boost interest and morale back home by establishing the superiority of the American cultural delegation against the Communist countries. Interestingly, Davis mentions the Aung San stadium, named after the Burmese nationalist hero and father of Aung San Suu Kyi, a prominent opposition politician in Burma.
Benny Goodman with
a Burmese musician
Benny Goodman attempts to play a Burmese instrument that appears similar to his usual clarinet.
Benny Goodman with Burmese Premier U Thant and American Ambassador Joseph C. Satherwaite
Benny Goodman met Premier U Thant, who later became Secretary General of the United Nations, while touring in Burma. Indeed, his tour targeted not just the general public in Southeast Asia, but also attempted to strengthen connections to the ruling elite. Of interest here is how U Thant is dressed in a Burmese longyi while King Bhumibol is dressed in a suit in another photograph in this exhibit.
Benny Goodman with Burmese dancers
January 1, 1957
Benny Goodman participates in a photo-op with Burmese dancers. As with many of the photos taken on the tour, the focus was on cultural exchange and appreciation, carefully curated to demonstrate the compatibility between distant cultures and American values.
Program for concerts in Rangoon
December 30, 1956–January 3, 1957
This is a typical program for Goodman’s concerts, repeated across his performances in other Southeast Asian countries. Of special note are the remarks on “The History of Jazz,” which sought to highlight America’s openness and diversity by presenting jazz as a fusion of “the tribal rhythms of African ancestors … the Creoles’ music, rich with French and Spanish influences” that constituted “America’s most valid musical form.” The USIS took pains to counter Soviet propaganda that depicted the U.S. as a racist country in light of the civil rights movement at that time.
Letter from Hal Davis to Virginia
December 14, 1956
Hal Davis details the extensive interactions the band had with King Bhumibol, included the duets by Benny Goodman and the King. Davis notes that Goodman had also incorporated several classic Thai songs into his repertoire to tremendous success.
Jazz & Hot Dance in Thailand
Jazz & Hot Dance in Thailand features Benny Goodman’s jazz tour in Thailand as well as the Jack Teagarden Allstars’ tour of Asia in 1958 which was also sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Arguably, the U.S.’ cultural diplomacy efforts were crucial in introducing jazz to Southeast Asia, especially for a country like Thailand, which was never under Western colonial rule and hence did not have a ready market for Western music. Nevertheless, Afro-American music and culture has had a long presence in the region, beginning with circus shows featuring the cakewalk in the early 1900s. The liner notes by Rainer E. Lotz, a German jazz historian, provide valuable information behind Goodman’s various performances in Thailand.
Letter from Pichai Kullavanijya
(Royal Thai Police Department)
to Benny Goodman
December 13, 1956
Here we see a direct link between two items of the exhibit: the Thai Police Major General Pichai Kllavanijya invited Benny Goodman to play with the Prasarn Mitr Police Band, the recording of which is featured in Jazz & Hot Dance in Thailand.
Benny Goodman with Thai dancers
Thai dancers dance as Benny Goodman plays the clarinet. Goodman’s tour provided the opportunity for the USIS and the media to capitalize on the optics of musicians playing ostensibly American music in the midst of exotic and foreign cultures.
Benny Goodman with Thai musicians
Benny Goodman plays with Thai musicians, perhaps for one of the early “East meets West” fusion pieces that is captured in Jazz & Hot Dance in Thailand. Musical collaboration was another crucial public diplomacy and media optics tool used to demonstrate friendly ties with foreign nations.
Benny Goodman presenting a clarinet
to the King of Thailand
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is still reigning today, became known as a skilled clarinetist and a fan of Goodman’s music. As such, this photo of Goodman presenting a clarinet to the King holds greater significance. While King Bhumibol and the “King of Swing” did play together, the recording unfortunately remains unauthorized for public release. Many Southeast Asian leaders had Western education or backgrounds, predisposing them to Western music and culture. King Bhumibol himself was born in the U.S. and raised in Switzerland.
Letter from Ivan Izenberg
to Sidney Fine
December 23, 1956
This is one of the few documents directly addressing the link between Goodman’s tour and the USIS. Of note is the separate but similar roles of the media and the USIS. Hal Davis, who wrote two other letters featured in this exhibition, was the tour manager, and was responsible for many press releases and photographs detailing Goodman’s tour. Indeed, the media and the USIS often worked in tandem, sharing information and materials about Goodman’s tour.
Telegram from Tom Frost
to Hal Davis
December 26, 1956
This telegram from Tom Frost to Hal Davis harks back to the old days of telecommunications in Malaya. Tom Frost worked for Rediffusion, the first cable radio service in Singapore that was especially popular with the public for its Chinese dialect programs. This was the audience the USIS sought to reach, as many Malayan Chinese at that time were particularly supportive of the Communists and had many ties to their homeland in China.
Program for concert in Phnom Penh
December 28, 1956
In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Benny Goodman’s band was part of a larger American Cultural Festival. Looking at the schedule, we see a conscious effort again to highlight U.S. diversity, including a Native American dance, ballet, and of course, jazz.