WHPO_C0923-19

Amidst the preparations for President Nixon’s upcoming visit to Moscow, another American cultural icon toured the Soviet Union in the fall of 1971. Traveling to five different Soviet cities in a month’s time, Jazz legend Duke Ellington put on twenty-two performances to “applause [that] began before the curtain went up and kept on after 45 minutes of encores.”

Ellington established his presence as a musical diplomat in the 1960s, with tours to the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, but his trip to the Soviet Union was an unprecedented success. From government officials and at least one cosmonaut to travelers from across the Soviet Union, Ellington’s shows were attended by approximately 114,000 people. He also participated in three informal jazz sessions with Soviet musicians and connected with Soviet citizens. President Nixon wrote a personal message to Ellington upon his return, thanking him for “continuing to win friends for the United States throughout the world.”