Monday, 18 April 2016

Vote Dizzy

Your politics ought to be a groovier thing
Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!
So get a good president who's willing to swing
Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!

Trumpeter and bebop pioneer John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (1917-1993) ran for president in 1964. So did Lyndon Johnson. Gillespie wanted a cabinet of jazz all-stars (with Miles Davis head of the CIA, Louis Armstrong as head of the Ministry of Agriculture, and drummer Max Roach as minister of war ... but since they were not going to have any wars he was given another role), black US-American astronauts in space, the country's withdrawal from Vietnam, free education, free hospitalisaion and the White House to be renamed the Blues House (via and via).

“I had a real reason for running because the proceeds from the sale of buttons went to CORE, SCLC [the Southern Christian Leadership Conference] and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I could threaten Democrats with a loss of votes and swing them to a more reasonable position on civil rights.”
Dizzy Gillespie
“Anybody coulda made a better President than the ones we had in those times, dillydallying about protecting blacks in the exercise of their civil and human rights and carrying on secret wars against people around the world. I was the only choice for a thinking man.” Dizzy Gillespie
It started as one of Gillespie's jokes and a publicity stunt to raise money for the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) and other civil rights organisations but soon became more. People could imagine an alternative to the "millionaire's-only" club represented by other candidates (via). When asked why a black jazzman, "permanent member of the underclass if there ever was one", would run for president he replied: "Because we need one." Jean Gleason, the wife of music critic and founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine, conceived the campaign. In 1963, a rally was held in Chicago and "Dizzy for president" buttons were sold to raise money for CORE. He campaigned into early 1964, then it "sort of fizzled out". According to Gillespie, the only politician who took him seriously was a woman, Barbara Jordan (via). Nevertheless, his campaign did have an effect:
“It shone a light on the whole thing. Like, what about a black person running for president? It had never happened before ... It was to give both political parties, all those poseurs and jive talkers, a kick in the butt.”
Jon Hendricks

"I think the idea is now for blacks to write about the history of our music. It's time for that, because whites have been doing it all the time. It's time for us to do it ourselves and tell it like it is." 
Dizzy Gillespie

photographs via and via and via