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Satchmo in the Republic of the Congo, 1960

Louis Armstrong arrives in Leopoldville, Congo
Louis Armstrong arrives in Leopoldville, Congo, greeted by Congolese cultural affairs director, playwright Albert Mongita, who dressed for the occasion in traditional garb, October 28, 1960. Courtesy of AP/Wide World Photos
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At 'OZ, one of our main missions is to bring New Orleans music to the world. Props to Satchmo, who was always far ahead of us.

Now, over four decades after his death, it's easy to underestimate the size and scope of his mid-century fame. But the newsreel clip about his 1960 visit to the Republic of the Congo (below) reminds us that he represented more than New Orleans or Jazz or Music. He was truly World Famous.

A few words on the context of this video. The Republic of the Congo had achieved independence earlier in 1960, part of the wave of new countries brought into existence by the collapse of European colonialism in the decades after WWII, for example India (1947), Ghana (1957), Indonesia (1949), Jamaica (1962), etc. Satchmo was on "a State Department sponsored goodwill mission", as the newsreel narrator puts it. Such trips were part of a propaganda war with the Soviet Union, in which the US government sponsored international tours by famous African-Americans.

This was not Satchmo's first such mission (e.g., he'd been to Africa in 1956). And his relationship with the State Department was occasionally rocky, as when he angrily cancelled a trip to Moscow in 1957 to protest the US government's failure to enforce a federal court order integrating a Little Rock, Arkansas high school.

As the newsreel narrator notes, the political climate in the newly formed Republic of the Congo was turbulent at the time of Armstrong's visit. But here's what he doesn't share: "During a secession crisis in the newly independent Congo’s Katenga Province, a day-long truce was called so that both sides could attend Armstrong’s performance. Armstrong later commented that he had stopped a civil war."

 

 

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