Cultural Exchange

U.S. Department of State Musical Overtures Program
Musical Overtures Program is a unique cultural diplomacy mission administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Cultural Programs that promotes mutual understanding and strengthens America’s ties with nations involved in, or recovering from conflict.  Created to share America’s unique contribution to the world of music and to promote cross-cultural understanding and exchange among nations worldwide, Musical Overtures builds on the rich legacy of the legendary Jazz Ambassadors such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck. Today, Musical Overtures includes a number of musical genres that are quintessentially American. 

Tour activities include public concerts, master classes, lecture-demonstrations, workshops, jam sessions, media outreach, and collaborations with local musicians. 

Music professionals who are chosen to participate in Musical Overtures are flexible and understanding of the limitations involved with travel, venues, and security issues in these regions.  They have considerable experience in education and professional performance, as well as experience working with U.S. missions abroad.  

History and Program Origins
Musical Overtures traces its beginnings to Jazz Ambassadors, a program established in 1955 by the U.S. Department of State. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a representative from Harlem, proposed sending some of America’s thriving jazz musicians on world tours through the Jazz Ambassadors program during the Cold War. 

American Greats: First Jazz Ambassadors
March 1956 marked Jazz Ambassadors’ first international tour. Dizzy Gillespie travelled through southern Europe, the Middle East, and south Asia with his 18-piece band, greeting awestruck audiences along his path.

In 1956, 1960, and 1961, Louis Armstrong also participated, bringing his celebrated trumpet and distinctive voice to Ghana (then the British Gold Coast), Congo, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, and the United Arab Republic. In 1963, 1970, and 1972, Duke Ellington toured the Soviet Union, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Dave Brubeck visited 12 Polish cities in 1958—said one onlooker years later to Brubeck, “What you brought to Poland wasn’t just jazz. It was the Grand Canyon, it was the Empire State Building, it was America.” 

The legacy of jazz diplomacy also continues today in The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad. Launched in 2005 and produced in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, The Rhythm Road has brought 150 musicians from 39 ensembles playing jazz, urban, hip hop, and American roots music to over 100 countries to date.  In the traditions of Gillespie, Armstrong, and Brubeck, The Rhythm Road cultivates cultural exchange and brings America’s musical art forms to audiences internationally.