Fri. Dec 8th, 2023
Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the Launch of the Global Music Diplomacy Initiative

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I’m really at a loss for words because I can tell you, that song never sounded like that before.  (Laughter.)  And never will again.  Dave, thank you for really the highlight of a lifetime.

And everyone here, good evening.  Welcome to the State Department.  First let me say how grateful I am to my friend and colleague of so many years, Lee Satterfield, our assistant secretary of state.  (Applause.)  Lee and the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs were the masterminds of this evening, and every single day are out there working to strengthen the bonds between Americans and people around the world. To our philanthropic and private sector partners – YouTube, Chevron, Boeing, the Wasserman Foundation, United Airlines – thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you for making so many of our cultural diplomacy programs possible.  We could not do what we’re doing without you.  And to my friend and colleague, Chairman Mike McCaul, thank you for your support, your advocacy for international exchange.  It makes a huge difference, and I’m proud to be your partner in this endeavor as well.  (Applause.)

Now, we have a few dignitaries come through this building, but it is a special treat to have so many members of music royalty here tonight.  Dave Grohl.  (Applause.)  Herbie Hancock.  (Applause.)  Rakim.  (Applause.)  Denyce Graves.  (Applause.)  And my dear friend Aimee Mann.  (Applause.)  We are also joined by so many other outstanding artists who are shaping the music industry today.  GAYLE is in the house.  (Applause.)  Armani White is in the house.  (Applause.)  Jamie Barton is in the house.  (Applause.)  Myles Frost.  (Applause.)  And Mickey Guyton is in the house tonight, too.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you all.

Now, I have to admit – and Dave might have given you just a little hint of this – I had some ambitions to try to make it in the music business once upon a time.  (Laughter.)  And indeed, some of my once and – who knows – maybe future bandmates are here tonight – Dave McKenna, Link Bloomfield.  But it turns out – it turns out I was missing just one crucial skill: talent.  (Laughter.)  Even so, music has stayed a connecting thread through my entire life, ever since I heard my parents play “A Hard Day’s Night” for the very first time, and it’s been love at first sight ever since.

You all know – we all know – music is a way for all of us to show who we are, where we come from, what we love, and also to learn the same about other people.  That’s true of people.  It’s also true of countries.  In the United States, our nation’s history shows up in the very instruments that we have – the drum set, invented in the early 1900s in large part by African Americans, who fused together instruments that generations of immigrants had brought to this country: tom-toms from China, cymbals from Türkiye, bass drums from Europe.

And our nation’s past echoes in how our people play, like in jazz and the blues, for example, genres created mainly by black musicians who blended musical elements from the Americas, from Europe, from Africa, including traditions that enslaved people brought to the United States.  Every beat of every song has a genealogy that is greater than any one artist.  And every musical tradition continues to evolve as genres are expanded and interpreted by creators in every corner of the globe.

But here’s the thing:  You don’t have to know any history to connect the feelings behind the music because music at its core is about a bond rooted in our shared humanity.  The great pianist Dave Brubeck believed that music could actually connect to the rhythm of our heartbeats, a pattern, as he put it, that is the same anyplace in the world.  In my own life, and now in my own travels in this job, I’ve seen how music can transcend the borders of geography and the barriers of language.  Music gives us a space to express ourselves, to hear one another, to build a sense of community and understanding that helps us work together.

So for generations, U.S. diplomacy has worked to harness the power of music to actually build bridges, to foster collaboration between Americans and people around the world.  Going back to the 1940s, the United States has helped American musicians travel around the world.  That started with classical musicians, singers, and iconic jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.  The tradition was carried on by pioneers like our very first and long-overdue hip-hop ambassador, Toni Blackman.  These initiatives continue today with musicians like DJ 2-Tone, whose music kicked off our program tonight.  Together, they reflect every genre of American music – folk, indie, pop, rap, classical, rock and roll – you name it.

We’re also supporting programs that bring musicians from other countries here to the United States.  That includes four women from Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, and the United States, who met through an exchange and went on to blend their traditional techniques together in the band LADAMA, and you will hear them a little bit later in the program.  (Applause.)

Now, tonight, with the partnership of Chairman McCaul, we’re opening a new chapter of music diplomacy by launching the Global Music Diplomacy Initiative.  This initiative will use music to support inclusive economic growth, to expand access to education, to build more resilient societies, and will start with three new efforts.

First, the State Department will begin a new partnership with the Recording Academy.  Together we’ll start a mentorship program to bring producers, sound engineers, talent agents, festival promoters, other music professionals together with leading experts in those fields from the United States.  We’ll also launch the Peace Through Music Award to celebrate Americans who are using music to support cultural exchange and grow mutual understanding between people across the planet.  Tonight, we’ll recognize our inaugural awardee.

Second, the State Department is formally incorporating music into the English language classes that we offer around the world.  This is one of our most popular programs.  So we’re going to include American songs and lyrics in the curriculum.  We’ll share our diverse culture.  We’ll help students improve their English fluency.

Finally, we’re creating a new Fulbright Award for an artist in residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  There we’ll have artists and scientists from other nations teaming up with Americans and exploring how to use art to benefit our people, our environment, and our societies.

In the months and years ahead, we’ll keep working with our partners to grow this initiative, to foster more collaboration between musicians and music lovers, to strengthen the ties that bind nations together.  In music and in diplomacy, we always are able to accomplish so much more together than any one of us could do alone.  Or as someone put it probably better:  We get by with a little help from our friends.  (Laughter.)

Now, it’s my pleasure to welcome to the stage the CEO of the Recording Academy, Harvey Mason, Jr.  (Applause.)

MR MASON:  Good evening, everyone.  It’s great to be here.  How cool is it that we have a musician here in Secretary Blinken?  This is incredible.  (Applause.)  What an honor.  Thank you for hosting us and thank you for shining a light on the massive power of music as an instrument of peace.

On behalf of the Recording Academy and all of our members, we’re honored and excited about our partnership and its potential to positively impact the world.  Tonight, in furthering the Peace Through Music Act and our partnership with the U.S. Department of State, it’s my honor to announce the establishment of the Peace Through Music Award.  Usually we celebrate through our GRAMMY Awards, but this very special award recognizes and honors an American music industry professional, artist, or group that has played an invaluable role in cross-cultural exchanges and whose music and work advance peace and mutual understanding around the globe.

While there are many deserving Americans of this award, one person stood out as the perfect inaugural recipient.  This esteemed individual served as music director and trumpeter for Jazz Ambassador Dizzy Gillespie during his overseas tours in the 1960s.  He’s partnered with the State Department more recently through Jazz Ambassadors Redux.  And while his heart and history were rooted in jazz, he expanded his works to include numerous genres of music.  He produced the best-selling record of all time.  He’s mentored young artists.  He’s provided an encore to more seasoned artists.  He’s a 28-time GRAMMY Award winner.  Geez.  (Laughter.)  His accolades and impacts go way beyond what I can say with just these words.  His work, his actions continue to advance peace through music, and I am sure they will for generations to come.

It’s my true honor to recognize my friend and mentor, Mr. Quincy Jones, as the first-ever recipient of what will now and into the future be known as the Quincy Jones Peace Through Music Award.  (Applause.)

While Quincy could not join us tonight, it is my sincere honor to welcome his daughter, Rashida Jones, via video to accept this award on his behalf.  (Applause.)

MS JONES:  Hi, I’m Rashida Jones, and on behalf of my father, Quincy Jones, it’s an honor to accept the Peace Through Music Award.  Thank you so much to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Harvey Mason, Jr. and the GRAMMYs for this extraordinary honor.

My father was actually one of the very first jazz ambassadors named by the State Department to travel around the world promoting peace and understanding through music.  And this experience has enduringly informed how he lives his life, how he approaches music and people.  His exposure to different cultures and languages and experiences so young has truly had a lasting impact on the way he lives his life and handles his career.  Quincy believes in the global community, the far-reaching impact of connectivity in music.  And we hope that this award inspires others to do the same – to remember that we’re in this together and that we truly are a global community.

So again, behalf of the Jones family and specifically Quincy, it’s a real honor and we’re so grateful.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

MR MASON:  And now it’s my privilege to welcome the chairman of the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, David Rubenstein.  (Applause.)

MR RUBENSTEIN:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for inviting us here, and thank you for inviting us to use this wonderful Benjamin Franklin Room for the Kennedy Center Honors every year.  Now that the writers’ strike seems to be behind us, it seems like we’re going to have it in December.  So thank you and I hope you’ll enjoy the honorees we have this year, many of whom are great musical artists.

It was more than 50 years ago that the National Cultural Center was established in Washington, and it was established in honor of President Kennedy, who gave his life for this country.  And it was established in his honor because he believed in the importance of bringing people together through the arts, and he was a lover of the arts.  And one of his great legacies that he left us is the Kennedy Center and what it does for humanity.

In his inaugural address, he ended it by saying, “With…good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth God’s work must truly be our own.”  Clearly what diplomats in this building are doing is God’s work on Earth, but by doing it as well with the musicians behind them and with them, we think you can do it even better.

So, Mr. Secretary, thank you for honoring the Kennedy Center with a Fulbright scholar.  Thank you, Congressman McCaul, for making this possible.  And it’s my real privilege to be here and to see all of you and to let you know that the Kennedy Center is welcoming all of you, and anytime you ever want to come to the Kennedy Center and enjoy live music, let us know.

So it’s my privilege now to introduce the global head of music for Google and YouTube, Lyor Cohen.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MR COHEN:  It’s times like these – what a beautiful, beautiful line.  Dave, thank you so much.  What a joy to be here.  David, thank you.  And I want to thank you, Secretary Blinken and Chairman McCaul and the Ranking Member Meeks.  Thank you for the extraordinary bipartisan leadership on the peace through global music diplomacy act and the initiative we’re launching here tonight.  So yay.  (Applause.)

Music reminds us that we have way more in common than what separates us.  It heals us.  It unites us.  It gets us hyped.  Music transcends language, cultural, religious, national, and economic differences.  It could also be a catalyst for social change.  Music is the connective force that is the center of culture always.

It all started with my mom.  She dragged her four boys to the love-ins back in the ’60s.  She played Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie throughout our house.  Little did I know how much their music helped shape perspectives and deliver important message across the world.  James Brown’s concert in Boston in 1968 after Martin Luther King died – when he was assassinated – shows how he prevented the riots.  Songs like “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, “Imagine” by John Lennon, and the list goes on and on and on – these artists used the power of music to bring together, to create an understanding, and drive peace.

As a 21-year-old living in New York City, working at Rush Management and being the road manager – the original road manager – of Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys – (laughter) – I experienced a cultural moment being built around me called rap music.  Hip-hop – wow.  It was all about inclusivity, not exclusivity.  It was the energy of that inclusivity that motivated me to spend my life advocating for artists and songwriters, uplifting art, and telling beautiful stories through music.

And now, as the global head of music for Google and YouTube, I have the opportunity to help amplify artists’ voices and strengthen fan connections and shape how technology could be used to enrich creativity, all on the world’s largest stage called YouTube.  Today an artist can share their music with billions of fans across a hundred countries, over 80 languages, with the ability to build a community and bring people together with their music.  That accessibility led to a real opportunity for artists.  In the three years prior to June 2022, YouTube has paid more than $50 billion to creators and artists and media companies.

It’s for all these reasons that YouTube is proud to serve as a sponsor of the U.S. State Department’s Global Music Diplomacy launch.  Thank you, thank you.  (Applause.)  Yeah.  YouTube is in the epicenter of global music and culture, and our team is ready to help push global music diplomacy forward, to help artists break down the cultural barriers and foster peace through their music.  What a privilege it is that we can do this together.

So tonight let’s take a moment to celebrate the journey that has made this evening possible.  Thank you, Lee.  Boy, that – you are a force of nature.  (Applause.)  By looking back at some of the iconic moments of music diplomacy exchanges, these moments are what inspire and shape future efforts to use music to promote peace and understanding across the world.  And with that, let’s take a look at how it all started.  (Applause.)

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS