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VOA Snapshot: Remembering and Finding New Acclaim for Willis Conover - 2002-08-22

For more than 40 years, VOA's jazz program host Willis Conover introduced American jazz and jazz performers to audiences worldwide. But most of his fans around the world don't realize that for all his worldwide fame, and his renown among jazz musicians, Mr. Conover was practically unknown to the American public.

Jazz saxophonist and pianist Jerry Mulligan once lamented that fact in a conversation on Mr. Conover's program.

"I think that a good many of the musicians here agree that your program and your sense of programming and the way you handle it makes for probably the best possible recorded music program on radio and it's a program that we can't get it in this country," he said.

Today, six years after his death, Willis Conover is finally getting some recognition in the United States. His programs are available at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. And some of his rare interviews are getting new exposure.

A 1955 Conover interview with jazz musician Miles Davis was played at a recent conference at the Missouri History Museum. The museum's Benjamin Cawthra said he was impressed with VOA's cultural programming those many years ago.

"And to think about that trumpet sound going out all over the world and to think that that's representing the best of America's culture even at a time when in 1954-55 the Montgomery bus boycott is happening, the civil rights movement is entering a very public and controversial phase and America certainly hasn't settled all of its issues. But here is a piece of America that's going out and reaching people all over the world with its beauty," Mr. Cawthra said.

Many of American jazz greats gained fame in some of the most improbable parts of the world thanks to Willis Conover. Today, finally, Mr. Conover is getting some recognition of his own, back home.

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