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October 2, 2022: The Real Ambassadors: Dave Brubeck, Iola Brubeck and Louis Armstrong

The Real Ambassadors is a poignant tale of anti-racism, cultural exchange, jazz history— and it’s a love story—between life-long husband and wife partners, Iola and Dave Brubeck and their vision for a better world.

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson), and Brandi Howell. Mixed by Jim McKee

During the late 1950s as the Civil Rights Movement escalated, Dave and Iola Brubeck created a jazz musical for Louis Armstrong. The original show, featuring Louis Armstrong, Carmen McCrae, Dave Brubeck and Lambert Hendricks and Bavan, was performed live only once, at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962.

The musical is based on the Jazz Ambassadors Program established by President Eisenhower and the US State Department during the Cold War. In an effort to win hearts and minds around the world, jazz musicians were sent out to represent the freedom and creativity of America. The irony was that Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and most of the other Jazz Ambassadors were Black—they were treated like royalty around the world but could not stay in hotels or play in integrated bands in their own country. The Brubeck’s musical was a chance for Louis Armstrong to speak out about his deep feelings about racism and segregation in this country — feelings he rarely expressed publicly.

The story features original music, rare archival recorded letters back and forth between the Brubecks and Louis Armstrong about the project, rehearsal recordings and interviews with Dave and Iola Brubeck. We hear from the Brubeck’s sons, Chris and Dan Brubeck; Keith Hatschek, author of newly released book, “The Real Ambassadors;” Ricky Riccardi, Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum; and singer/actress Yolande Bavan, the last surviving performer involved in the project.

The Peabody Award-winning Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, have created hundreds of stories for NPR, public media and their Webby Award-winning podcast “The Kitchen Sisters Present.” Brandi Howell is a member of The Kitchen Sisters team and the producer of The Echo Chamber, a podcast about music and its social impact.

This special will air on Sunday, October 2, at 5pm on Prairie Public.

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