What three administrations in the White House have refused to do, the people have done. They have recognized Willis Conover, the Voice of America broadcaster who may have been America’s greatest cultural diplomat of the Cold War. He now has his own Facebook page, The Willis Conover Club. Will that lead to his getting a long overdue posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom? Possibly not, but his page, up only a day or two, is rapidly accumulating fans. One of them typifies the many musicians who huddled around their shortwave radios behind the Iron Curtain and were inspired by the jazz that Conover sent around the world during some of the most perilous decades of the 20th century. This is his message on the Conover Facebook page.
Dear everybody, Please join the Willis Conover Club, He had done for Jazz as much as Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie etc….. Valery Ponomarev
Ponomarev went on to migrate to the United States from the Soviet Union, play trumpet with Art Blakey and become an international jazz artist whose career continues. For background about Willis and a personal Rifftides recollection, go here. To read the many other items about Conover in this blog, go to the archives, click on “edit,” then “find” and enter “Conover” in the search box.
Politicians and bureaucrats have downgraded the VOA to a remnant of its former power to objectively inform the world about the United States. Much of what Conover accomplished lingers in the good will he created toward his country with the music and dispassionate commmentary he disseminated for years by way of his Music USA program. In these daunting times, with the US so in need of good will, perhaps a swell of recognition from the bottom up will persuade the administration in Washington that cultural diplomacy is a potent tool.
If you are a Facebook member, enter Willis Conover in the Facebook search box. If you are not, you can go here to sign up.