Thanks to generous donations from Voice of America employees, the online Cold War Radio Museum acquired an original photograph of VOA broadcaster Willis Conover interviewing jazz musician Louis Armstrong autographed by both for Croatian musician Miljenko Prohaska.
The back of the photograph has the following text:
AMERICAN JAZZ STARS INTERVIEWED ON
VOICE OF AMERICA “MUSIC, U.S.A.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jazz musician Louis Armstrong, popularly known as
Satchmo, looks over some of his recordings with Willis Conover (left),
host of the Voice of America English Service program, “Music, U.S.A”
Popular music and jazz, played from one of the largest collections
of records and tapes in the United States, “Music, U.S.A. often includes
interviews with leading musicians. The ninety-minute program is broadcast
seven days each week.
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According to Maristella Feustle of The University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, TX, this photograph of Willis Conover (December 18, 1920 – May 17, 1996), the late host of the Voice of America English Service program, Music U.S.A., with jazz musician Louis Armstrong, was probably taken at the VOA studio in Washington, D.C. on July 13, 1956. The album “Ambassador Satch” was released in May of 1956, and Conover did a five-hour interview with Louis Armstrong on July 13. Ms. Feustle, Music Special Collections Librarian at UNT University Libraries who curates the Willis Conover Collection, helped to determine that the inscription from both Willis and Satchmo was to Croatian composer and orchestra conductor Miljenko Prohaska (17 September 1925 – 29 May 2014). Willis Conover dedicated two of his regular programs to Prohaska and his music.
In the five hour interview with Willis Conover, Louis Armstrong talked at length about his life and career. The interview is interspersed with musical selections introduced by Armstrong. The audio recording is part of the collection titled: Music Library Conover Collection and was provided by UNT Music Library to Digital Library, a digital repository hosted by the UNT Libraries.
The following slightly modified text from the Music Library Conover Collection explains Willis Conover’s unique role as a music host for the Voice of America.
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Willis Conover was a jazz producer and broadcaster on the Voice of America for over forty years. He produced jazz concerts at the White House, the Newport Jazz Festival, and for movies and television. Conover is credited with keeping interest in jazz alive in the countries of Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union through his nightly broadcasts during the Cold War when jazz was banned by most of the communist governments. Mr. Conover was not well known in the United States, even among jazz aficionados, but his visits to Eastern Europe and Russia brought huge crowds and star treatment for him.
The Digital Collection
The UNT Digital Library contains a small selection of program lists, recording schedules, and promos that come from a much larger collection of Conover materials available in tangible form at the UNT Music Library.
The Physical Collection
A 1997 gift of the Willis Conover Jazz Preservation Foundation, Inc., the physical collection consists of over 22,000 recordings of all kinds, correspondence, memos, magazines, record catalogs, manuscripts, program notes, memorabilia, photographs, books, and other personal items. Many of the recordings and books are being added to the regular collection, cataloged in the UNT Libraries’ online catalog, and allowed to circulate. The archival and historical material will be made available as special collections.
For more information, including inventories of circulating recordings, please see the UNT Music Library’s Willis Conover Collection page.
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Selections from Willis Conover’s 1956 interview with Louis Armstrong:
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