Academy for Cultural Diplomacy

Music as Cultural Diplomacy

American Music Abroad Night
American Music Abroad Night - Invitation »

Event Report

American Music Abroad Night - The influence of American music worldwide, Berlin 11.11.2008

The day culminated with an interactive musical event that explored the influence of American music abroad. Held at the Amerika Haus, members of the public were invited to join employees of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Jazz Radio and the visiting participants of USAMG for an evening that combined critical discussion and entertainment, offering fresh perspectives on how music has become one of America's most important cultural exports.

Panel Discussion
To discuss in-depth the many faces and facets that American music has contributed to  cultures around the world, a high-profile panel discussion led the audience through the last half a century of American musical heritage.  The discussion included Kara Johnstad (singer/songwriter), Reggie Moore (Jazz Ambassador), Prof. Peter Weniger (Universität der Künste), Matthias Kirsch (Jazz Radio) and Mark Donfried (ICD founder). Mr. Donfried guided the panellists from one genre to the next, from Rhythm and Blues to Jazz, to Rock 'n' Roll and Outlaw Country music, with musical interludes from Guitar Crusher, Reggie Moore, Prof. Peter Weniger, Hannes & Julie Sue and Jamestown Ferry that served to illustrate each of the preceding discussion parts.

Rhythm and Blues
Beginning with R&B, Guitar Crusher performed the classic Ray Charles song, "What'd I say". The discussion that followed highlighted the evolution of this genre and how it has been reshaped and transformed in the past 60 years, in many ways shifting and molding itself to the changes in American society along the way.  Ms. Johnstad provided an interesting insight into how the R&B artists of today represent the United States today, and that they follow in the footsteps of many greats before them.  Mr. Kirsch elaborated on the essential roll that record companies and radio have played in expounding such cultural goods from the American underground, to the world mainstream.

Jazz
Moving on to Jazz, of which the panellists were all avid fans, they commented on how it has captured the imagination of people all over the world. Mr. Moore was able to bring firsthand experience of the power of jazz abroad in recounting his time as a  Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. State Department, performing in Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt and Cyprus, thereby aiding in bringing this unique American cultural tradition to countries around the world.  The discussion also brought up the cultural upheavals that accompanied this cultural transformation.  For example, while black Jazz musicians were banned from producing their own records in the United States, they were playing on the most prestigious stages in France. Decades later Jazz provided a window into 'the other side' for East Germans listening to the West German allied radio stations. Mr. Moore displayed his skills on the piano along with Professor Weniger's on the saxophone, and successfully played a  jazz duet together for the first time ever; a classic example of the possibilities of this malleable and cross-cultural medium.

Rock 'n' Roll
To kick off perhaps American music's greatest contribution, Hannes and Julie Sue performed "Long Tall Sally" by Little Richard, kick starting the transformation of the talk to the wide and deep influence of rock 'n' roll abroad. Professor Weniger exuded his passion for the greatest of such musicians like Elvis Presley, who were so inspirational both in the United States and in Germany. Despite the largely positive influence of rock 'n' roll, the panel reminded the audience that at least indirect racism played a role in the rise of this as a popular genre, as the largely African-American roots of it were popularized with its adaptation by white artists.  This was a valuable lesson to be learned from such a discussion, which brought to light the many issues connected to American culture, both bad and good.

Outlaw Country
Much in the same vein, the next part of the panel's talks turned to Outlaw country, which was rebelling against the "Nashville sound" of typical honky-tonky country, and indeed following the influence of the social shifts of the late 1960s and early 1970s in America. To demonstrate this, Jamestown Ferry played the classic "On the Road Again" by Willy Nelson; a pioneer in this alternative artistic arrangement.  The panel took this music style head on, and explored the depths of how counter-culture music was prevalent at this time not just in the U.S., but was exported and expounded abroad as well.



Conclusions

Mr. Donfried concluded the discussion by summarizing the extensive findings of the evening, and underlined the important contributions of American music all-around the world. He officially opened the buffet after this, as the audience dined on traditional American fare before the real show began.

Live Music Festival

Both the music and conversation were well received and further discussions continued over food and drink. Afterwards the audience was invited back to the auditorium for a concert with the sights and sounds of Jamestown Ferry, Hannes and the Blue Vinyl Freaks and Guitar Crusher with "Detroit" Gary Wiggins, with the following playlist:

Jamestown Ferry
Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash
Lucille - Kenny Rogers
Jolene - Dolly Parton
Good Hearted Woman - Willie Nelson
Country Roads - John Denver
The Boxer - Paul Simon
Knockin ́ on Heaven ́s Door – Bob Dylan
 
Hannes & the Blue Vinyl Freaks
Down The Road A Piece – Freddie Slack 
Blue Days Black Nights – Buddy Holly 
Let's Have A Party – Wanda Jackson (feat.: Julie Sue)
Great Balls Of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis 
Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis (feat.: Hardy "Elvis")
Blue Suede Shoes – Elvis (feat.: Hardy "Elvis")
Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry (feat.: Hardy "Elvis")
Viva Las Vegas – Elvis (feat.: Hardy "Elvis")
 
Guitar Crusher
Big Boss Man - Jimmy Reed 
The Thrill is Gone - B.B. King 
Georgia on My Mind - Ray Charles 
Unchain my Heart- Ray Charles
Shake Rattle & Roll - Big Joe Turner 
I Feel Good - James Brown

During the show show featuring multiple musical talents, the audience was inspired to their feet by the moves of rock 'n' roll and swing dancers in the crowd, particularly to the beats of Elvis songs.  Each band brought a different atmosphere with them, and provided an emotional ride through these quintessential notes and rhythms that resonate down to today.  The singing and dancing continued long into the night, as the crowd let their hair down and partied to an eclectic mix of classic American songs.