About those state department tours

A few days ago I asked for the group’s help in fleshing out what more there may be in “real” history to a “fictional” reference in a Fanny Flagg novel to goodwill tours sponsored by the State Department that may have included southern gospel. Today, my friend and AVFL reader Steve Shearon, a professor of musicology at MTSU, wrote in with the more comprehensive response to date:

Concerning all this, the analysis of Cold War-era cultural tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department has become a hot topic for scholars in the Society for American Music, spurred in part by use of the Freedom of Information Act and the opening of archives in formerly Communist nations.  While good for many of the artists involved, these tours were essentially American propaganda, the use of soft power to combat the Soviet Union’s negative portrayals of American culture.  Each side was trying to convince the citizens of Third World nations that their culture was superior.  For that reason, the US government, which was being portrayed negatively because of our widely publicized oppression of African Americans, chose, when possible, to send integrated groups (e.g., The Dave Brubeck Quartet) and African American artists.  (This caused some interesting situations, because many of the persons they encountered in other countries were no less bigoted against them than were many of their fellow Americans.)  Heard an interesting paper at last month’s meeting, in fact, about the Af Am composer Ulysses Kay and his U.S.-sponsored, or Goodwill, tour.  NOTE: At least some of these touring artists apparently engaged also in espionage.  So, do you think there’s an untold sg story here?

Fascinating stuff. Thanks, Steve. Maybe somebody should write about that, eh?

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  1. Stephen Shearon wrote:

    Yes, Doug, somebody should.

  2. Stephen Shearon wrote:

    Doug, Deborah is helping me remember that other papers we heard on the same topic involved the Juilliard String Quartet and Aaron Copland, respectively. Also, all or perhaps all of the artists who went on these tours were vetted by Hoover’s FBI, and those FBI files can be obtained (often in heavily redacted form) via the use of the FOIA. The scholar who did the paper on Ulysses Kay was told that the FBI did not have a file on him, which of course caused everyone’s antennae to tingle.

  3. Wade wrote:

    JD Sumner & Elvis were spies on their USO Tours. Which is one of the reasons they (President Nixon) made Elvis and “Honorary” Federal Agent.

    Elvis even had feds assist in part of his martial arts training. Supposedly one of those agents got busted messing with Elvis’ GF, which, “casued some problems”!!

    JD tried to talk Elvis out of some of it. The stage ramblings of Elvis & JD were used for code to agents, which is why much of the time you could not understand what they were saying.

    Richard Sterban’s trips with the Stamps is why the Oaks made several trips to Russia during their tours to HELP OUT UNCLE SAM!!!

    The TCB Symbols were at first used as an identifier w/ the foreign operatives.

    Gold City is gonna be doing some spy work. A meeting with their HANDLER was why they were late for sound check at last years SGM Fest in Nashville.

  4. Bryce wrote:

    I imagine many sensitive documents could have been smuggled in Vestal’s beehive.

  5. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    It does seem that I remember that Tennessee Ernie Ford was part of some goodwill trips to what was then known as the Soviet Union.

  6. Irishlad wrote:

    #3 Wade….Sg Confidential “and so dear reader don’t forget you read it here first,on the QT and very hush hush”.

  7. Wade wrote:

    Just trying to tell it IrishLaddy!!

    I am sure you could add your own story since you had to deal with it on that side of The Pond!!

  8. Obzerver wrote:

    #4 - documents nothin’…where do you think the military hid Fat Man and Little Boy?

  9. RDB wrote:

    youse all should stop sinnin and gossipin and jus praiz the lord.

    hey someone hasta be illiterate and humorless around here.

  10. Irishlad wrote:

    Anyone know if the BB’s with Ken Turner in tow during the 70’s when they infiltrated the then USSR with a consignment of smuggled Bibles was on an independent endeavour or was it State sponsored? PS Only kidding Wadey,just watched the movie……you know how it is, end up thinking you’re in it.

  11. cynical one wrote:

    Irishlad — I’m guessing the Blackwood Brothers’ trips to USSR were not government sponsored. If I remember correctly, they took love offerings to support those trips. They also occaisionally booked free-will offering concerts in the back doors of their paid concerts, supposedly to raise money for those mission trips. And if I understood correctly, there have been (at least indirect) references to some of those offerings, as well as other unique happenings of the brothers of that era.

  12. Irishlad wrote:

    #11.I sure Uncle Cecil was the brains behind that one.

  13. cynical one wrote:

    Irish — that was my understanding, too.

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