Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Dizzy for Pres

Back in 1964 John Birks Gillespie, aka Dizzy, ran for President of the USofA. This was at one and the same time not entirely serious and completely and utterly serious. A certain amount irony was involved, which is perhaps why the lyrics to the theme song were set to “Salt Peanuts” - a tune Diz would one day perform in the White House with President Jimmy Carter.

He developed a standard stump speech which eventually made its way into his autobiography, To Be or Not to Bop (Doubleday 1979 pp. 457-458). It’s full of jazz references that will be obscure to those who don’t know the music, and various contemporary references are likely to be lost as well. Though I never heard Gillespie give this speech, I’ve heard him speak on several musical occasions and his comic timing is superb. That is utterly lost in this transcription, though those familiar with his vocal patterns can - in some small measure - supply them as they read his words:

When I am elected President of the United States, my first executive order will be to change the name of the White House! To the Blues House.

Income tax must be abolished, and we plan to legalize ‘numbers’ - you know, the same way they brought jazz into the concert halls and made it respectable. We refuse to be influenced by the warnings of one NAACP official who claims that making this particular aspect of big business legal would upset the nation’s economy disastrously.

One of the ways we can cut down governmental expenditures is to disband the FBI and have the Senate Internal Security Committee investigate everything under white sheets for un-American activities. Understand, we won’t take no ‘sheet’ off anybody!

All U.S. Attorneys and judges in the South will be our people so we can get some redress. ‘One Man-One Vote’ - that’s our motto. We might even disenfranchise women and let them run the country. They’ll do it anyhow.

The Army and Navy will be combined so no promoter can take too big a cut off the top of the ‘double-gig’ setup they have now.

The National Labor Relations Board will rule that people applying for jobs have to wear sheets over their heads so bosses won’t know what they are until after they’ve been hired. The sheets, of course, will all be colored!

We’re going to recall every U.S. ambassador except Chester Bowles and give the assignments to jazz musicians because they really ‘know where it is.’

The title of ‘Secretary’ will be replaced by the more appropriately dignified ‘Minister.’ Miles Davis has offered to serve as Minister of the Treasury, but I’ve persuaded him to head the CIA instead. Mrs. Jeannie Gleason, whose husband Ralph writes a lot, will be Ministress of the Treasury. Max Roach argued for the position of Minister of War. He said he wanted to declare it. But since we’re not going to have any, I gave him some books by C. Wright Mills and convinced him to be Minister of Defense. I have Charles Mingus lined up for Minister of Peace because he’ll take a piece of your head faster than anybody I know.

Ray Charles will be in charge of the Library of Congress, and we have found a place for Ross Barnett - U.S. Information Officer in the Congo. We will also recommend a special act of Congress to revoke the citizenship of Governor George Wallace and deport him to Vietnam.

Since integration will be so complete under my administration, the Muslims will be out of business, and even Malcolm X’s group won’t have anything to do, so rather than let all that talent go to waste, Malcolm be appointed U.S. Attorney General, immediately. He’s one cat we want on our side.

Although Bo Diddley applied first, I told him my choice is the great Duke Ellington for Minister of State. He’s a natural and can con anybody. Louis Armstrong is set for Minister of Agriculture. He knows all about raising those crops. Mary Lou Williams has already agreed to be Ambassadress to the Vatican. And, after considering the qualifications and potential of a great many candidates, I have decided that the Rabbi of Modern Jazz . . . the Maharajah of Contemporary Music . . . one of the most creative and gifted and avant-garde young men I know - Thelonious Sphere Monk - will be booked for a four-year tour as Roving Ambassador Plenipotentiary.

There will be places in the cabinet for Peggy Lee (Ministress of Labor), Ella Fitzgerald (HEW), Carmen McRae, Benny Carter, Woody Herman, and Count Basie. They are collaborating now on the jazz curriculum to be taught to kids in every school in the country.

The distinguished post of National Poet Laureate, a paid position, will go to Jon Hendricks, who has been donating his services to our movement as a campaign lyricist.

As Vice-President, I would like Ramona Crowell, a leader of the John Birks Society and a registered Sioux Indian.


Chester Bowles was a liberal politician who seemed to have something to do with jazz cultural exchanges. He lost favor with Kennedy because he opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Gillespie was not a serious candidate but he was serious about putting pressure on LBJ on civil rights issues.

“Anybody coulda made a better president than the ones we had in those times,” he wrote, “dilly-dallying about protecting blacks in their civil and human rights and carrying on secret wars against people around the world. I didn’t think there was any choice. I had a real reason for running because the proceeds from the sale of the buttons went to Core and SCLC the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose president was Dr Martin Luther King, Jr , and I could threaten the Democrats with a loss of votes and swing them to a more reasonable position on civil rights

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