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“Take the A Train” … to Kabul

September 30th, 2013
10:18 AM ET

By Lucky Gold, CNN

In the midst of the Annual UNGA Madness here in New York – gridlock traffic, a glut of world leaders at the United Nations and the whole diplomatic in-crowd there – it's worth nothing that diplomacy can take other forms, and music is one of the most universal.

Last year, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright beat the drums for jazz, diplomatically, at Washington's Kennedy Center.

It's a tradition that goes back half a century, to the remarkable journey of one of the world's great jazz composers and diplomats.

Imagine a world where you can "Take the A Train" all the way to Kabul.

Fifty years ago this month, the legendary Duke Ellington and his orchestra began a magical musical tour from Syria to Afghanistan, and it was sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Even as the fight for civil rights was raging here in America, the Duke and his quintessentially American sound criss-crossed the region, bringing jazz and goodwill to countries which even then were torn by war and revolutionary change.

The Duke and his band played Baghdad – a tough house even then, because it was in the throes of a military coup.

The Duke also wowed them in India and Pakistan, two bitter rivals who'd be at war only two years later.

And in Iran, just five months after massive protests against the arrest of a then-obscure cleric known as Ayatollah Khomeini, he played to thousands in a packed stadium in the city of Abadan.

The Duke didn't hesitate to use his microphone to speak out against racial injustice back home, but for two months on his diplomatic caravan, he not only brought his own music, but he was deeply influenced by the sounds of the lands he visited.

soundoff (33 Responses)
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