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Dizzy Gillespie: Baha'i & a Musical Ambassador for Peace

In the 1980s, Gillespie led the United Nations Orchestra. (Wikipedia)

While the faith is not as well known as more widely practiced religions, there are many notable Baha'i celebrities, actors, thinkers, and artists. The religion teaches a sense of unity and acknowledges that all historic religious beliefs move towards the same goal. Therefore, it attracts people from all backgrounds, faiths, and cultures. Singers, actors, actresses, and even historic figures have been known to practice the faith!  

Some famous Baha'i were actually raised since childhood in the faith, and it's had a large effect on their work. Rainn Wilson, for example, credits a lot of his comedic sensibilities to his Baha'i upbringing. Other celebrities converted to the faith later in life, often after some soul searching. Famed jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, for instance, converted when he found the religion fit his personal belief systems.

To learn about more Baha'i celebs, browse the list below [in the next link]. 

NEW YORK — Dizzy Gillespie is remembered not only for his genius as a trumpeter who broke new ground in jazz but also for his long-standing dedication to the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Reflecting on the life and accomplishments of this iconic figure 100 years after his birth would be incomplete without reflecting on the Baha’i belief that seemed most to inspire and drive his work—that all human beings are part of one family.

“Dizzy represented an organic breakthrough in music,” asserts jazz pianist Mike Longo about Dizzy Gillespie, his late collaborator and friend.

“His music is from such a deep place,” Longo says, scanning the walls of his apartment on Riverside Drive on Manhattan’s upper west side. Framed photographs capture the decades of a musical partnership that ranged from playing sold-out concerts in major venues to private practice sessions at Gillespie’s home in Englewood on the other side of the Hudson River.

Dizzy Gillespie's Cold War Jazz Diplomacy (2016) - NPR

Official diplomacy is one time-tested way to ease tensions between countries. But as John Birks Gillespie proved two generations ago, American jazz and "cultural outreach" can go a long way, too.


Fifty years ago, in the midst of the Cold War, the U.S. government dispatched a high-level emissary to ease tensions during a nuclear crisis: a jazz trumpeter known to most of the world as Dizzy.


Gillespie and his band went overseas in the name of cultural diplomacy. Last week, the University of Southern California marked the anniversary of this historic tour with a special concert.


USC has just inaugurated a Master's program in cultural diplomacy, emphasizing person-to-person outreach by artists and entertainers.


USC Professor Nicholas Cull explains that in the post-Sept. 11 era, cultural diplomacy is more important than ever.


"America woke up to the need to communicate effectively with the rest of the world," he says.

Cull says even nations hostile to the United States can relate to popular U.S. artists. The U.S. Department of State realized this in 1956 when Gillespie and his band were asked to tour the world.

Gillespie made a point during his tour of playing with local bands, and the experience made an impact with both the Americans and the locals.

"It was a mutually transforming experience, and that's one of the things that was so exciting about those tours," Cull says. "And maybe it's something that's missing today."

Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY), who represented New York City's Harlem, was the catalyst behind the 1956 Gillespie tour. His son, Adam Clayton Powell III, is now a professor at USC. He says the power of music — especially jazz, a music genre that originated in America — can communicate what words cannot.

"Really interesting music attracts people, and then they hang around for a discussion of the politics," Powell says. "They may hate our policies, but they love our music."

Here’s the rest of this NPR article:

Dizzy Gillespie's 1964 presidential campaign

The jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie campaigned as an independent write-in candidate during the 1964 United States presidential campaign

He promised that if he were elected, the White House would be renamed the Blues House, and he would have a cabinet composed of Duke Ellington (Secretary of State), Miles Davis (Director of the CIA), Max Roach (Secretary of Defense), Charles Mingus (Secretary of Peace), Ray Charles (Librarian of Congress), Louis Armstrong (Secretary of Agriculture), Mary Lou Williams (Ambassador to the Vatican), Thelonious Monk (Travelling Ambassador) and Malcolm X (Attorney General).[3][4] He said his running mate would be Phyllis Diller. Gillespie pledged to provide housing and hospital care for all those who needed it and to withdraw American troops from the Vietnam War.[5] Gillespie said that his campaign was not just a publicity stunt but was intended "to take advantage of the votes and publicity I'd receive and to promote change".[6]


In 1961, the great Ella Fitzgerald performed the song with new lyrics evoking a night in the Tunisian desert:

“The moon is the same moon above you

Aglow with its cool evening light

But shining at night, in Tunisia

Never does it shine so bright

“The stars are aglow in the heavens

But only the wise understand

That shining at night in Tunisia

They guide you through the desert sand

“Words fail, to tell a tale

Too exotic to be told

Each night's a deeper night

In a world, ages old

“The cares of the day seem to vanish

The ending of day brings release

Each wonderful night in Tunisia

Where the nights are filled with peace

“Each wonderful night in Tunisia”

More Musical Peacemakers...

As the Beatles sing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance…”

Feb 12, 2015


Music is a powerful mechanism for self-expression, social activism and public diplomacy. Talented musicians around the world have produced and performed seminal works of art that have both facilitated cross-cultural understanding and promoted a message of peace. Below is CPD’s curated list of some of the most notable examples of music diplomacy from the past century in chronological order. We welcome your picks in the comments section.

--University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy

Playing for Change: "Peace through Music"


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