In 1955, when the late Nat Shapiro and I put together Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz Told by the Men Who Made It—in which only musicians spoke—a primary reason was to counter the notion at the time that jazz players were only articulate on their instruments but otherwise had little to say of interest about public issues.
Since then, of course, Max Roach, Charles Mingus and others have spoken vigorously and publicly about controversies outside of music. Particularly notable was Louis Armstrong’s reaction to Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus’ blocking the integration of public schools in Little Rock. “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell,” said Armstrong. And when President Eisenhower spoke of “extremists on both sides” of that conflict, Armstrong trumpeted: “The President has no guts.”